Since the US attack on Wagner mercenaries in Deir ez-Zor on February 7, which even the Kremlin has now been forced to admit included Russian casualties, come these stunning revelations from The Washington Post:
The intercepted communications show not only that Prigozhin was personally involved in planning the attack but that he had discussed it with senior Syrian officials, including Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Fadlallah Azzam.
In a Jan. 24 exchange, Prigozhin said he had secured permission from an unspecified Russian minister the day before to move forward with a “fast and strong” initiative and was awaiting a decision by the Syrian government.
On Jan. 30, Prigozhin “indicated he had a ‘good surprise’ ” for Assad “that would come between 6 and 9 February.” According to one intelligence report, he also was assured by Azzam that he would be paid for his work.
The reports indicated an increased tempo of communications between Prigozhin and Kremlin officials during the same period, including Putin chief of staff Anton Vayno and deputy chief of staff Vladimir Ostrovenko, but the content of those talks is not known. The communications continued until Feb. 5 and resumed the day after the attack.
U.S. Special Forces at the base and overhead reconnaissance had seen the attack force mobilizing west of the river at least a week before the attack, according to Mattis and Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. They notified the Russians at that time and warned that the base would defend itself. Asked in a briefing with reporters last week to characterize the conversations, Harrigian said only that they “remained professional.”
On the night of the attack, Mattis said, “the Russians profess that they were not aware when we called about that force that had crossed, and it came closer. They were notified when the firing began,” and the Americans were told “there were no Russians there.”
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Prigozhin owns a Russian company called Evro Polis, which, according to the Russian news site Fontanka, struck a deal in 2016 with the Syrian government to receive a 25 percent share of oil and natural gas produced on territory recaptured from the Islamic State. Most of those fields are on the eastern side of the Euphrates, where SDF fighters, accompanied by U.S. forces, have been advancing on the militants.
The Prigozhin-linked mercenary company Wagner apparently provides the ground forces to help achieve that goal, working under contract with the Syrian government.
There are a few possible interpretations here.
The obvious one is that The Washington Post and/or “US intelligence reports” are simply lying.
Of course, the Kremlin’s hamfisted denials and prevarications make it poorly positioned to counter these allegations even if it cared to.
Anything else just goes to, at best, further demonstrate the growing dementia of Putin and the people around him.
The most straightforward conclusion from WaPo’s report is that “Putin’s chef” Evgeny Prigozhin is running his own “public private” war in Syria. Evidently, the urka Prigozhin’s 1990’s “work experience” in banditry and raiding doesn’t translate into success in high geopolitics, since the Americans have rather more in the way of B-52 bombers than Saint-Petersburg businessmen.
One also wonders how the Americans intercepted his communications. Actually, perhaps it’s not a big puzzle at all, maybe he was stupid enough to use his cell phone to call the Syrian and Russian Presidential Administrations. Wouldn’t surprise me.
Incidentally, Anton Vaino is another of the little known and rather strange non-entities who have been sprouting around Putin in recent years. He is best known for his pseudo-scientific articles about the nooscope, a “a baffling mystical instrument that he claims can forecast and control society and the economy by scanning the universe.” Perhaps his nooscope told him the Americans wouldn’t attack?
There’s also a conspiracy theory, advanced by the anti-Russian agent Andrey Illarionov, that there was an agreement between the Americans and the Russians to demonstratively kill many of the Wagnerites as part of a “big deal” in which the Americans would also refrain from publishing their full sanctions list. This is an incredible assertion, and almost certainly a false one, underestimating American incompetence and overestimating the capacity of US civilian institutions to enter bizarre, intricate conspiracies, which don’t even benefit them in any appreciable manner (why on Earth should the US care if a few dozen unfortunate bastards in Wagner get wiped out?).
I suppose a less insane version of this conspiracy theory is that it was a plot by elements of the Russian government to discredit Prigozhin. After all, mercenary companies are formally illegal in Russia, so perhaps this could have served as a launching point to take down Prigozhin and his empire, which includes the Savushkina troll factory, 13 members of whom were indicted for “meddling” in US elections soon after the attack. Essentially, an agreement between the American and Russian deep states: You stop “meddling” in our elections, proving your commitment by scapegoating a minor pawn like Prigozhin – we’ll even “help” you with that; in return, we call it evens and don’t aggressively go after your offshore loot in the US and elsewhere.
For the record, I don’t think that’s the case either.
That said, it cannot be denied there is something extremely fishy about this affair. Americans noticed the buildup days in advance. They warned the Russians not to advance. The Russians advanced anyway, in a neat column and equipped with nothing heavier than assault rifles. Then the Russian military informed the Americans that there were no Russians in that column, and the Americans proceeded to smash Wagner to smithereens with artillery, Warthogs, and even B-52s.
The man explains that American forces used artillery and helicopter gunships to repel the assault. “They were all shelling the holy fuck out of it and our guys didn’t have anything besides the assault rifles… nothing at all, I’m not even talking about shoulder-fired SAMs or anything like that… they tore us to pieces, put us through hell,” he says.
The speaker is also critical of the Russian government’s response to the incident, saying, “They beat our asses like we were little pieces of shit… but our fucking government will go in reverse now and nobody will respond or anything and nobody will punish anyone for this.”
“My guys just called me, they are sitting there drinking, many are MIA, it’s a total fuck-up, another humiliation… nobody gives a fuck about us.”
That seems about right.
Look, chances are, if you’re serving in Wagner, you are effectively either helping a private oligarch (and probably his government friends) enrich themselves in the geopolitical equivalent of corporate raiding, or providing cannon fodder to implement high conspiracies, or – at best – you are commanded by fucking retards who will not even pay a price for sending you to an assured and pointless death in some desert.
You are not defending Russians, or even helping advance Russian national interests in any substantive way. The Kremlin proved it wasn’t interested in that back in 2014.
So make of this what you will.