Was Prigozhin’s Mutiny a Western Intelligence Op Derailed by Russian Spies?

Was Prigozhin’s Mutiny a Western Intelligence Op Derailed by Russian Spies?

There is still no consensus about the motive for Yevgeny Prigozhin’s and there is a lot of speculation. Some have posed the false dichotomy of having to choose “real coup” versus “pretend coup.” That approach ignores some troubling irregularities and facts, which point to a sophisticated double cross operation.

My friend, Steve Bryen, an old U.S. defense hand posted an excellent overview at his substack, “What Didn’t Happen in Russia — There was no uprising and Prigozhin couldn’t deliver what he promised.” Steve is still well-plugged into the U.S. intelligence and defense community and he drops a bit of a metaphorical bombshell by revealing Prigozhin was in contact with Ukrainian military intelligence:

To launch his operation, Prigozhin took a number of steps over a period of the past six or more months.  Among these were constant, and provably false, accusations that he was not getting enough ammunition to fight in Bakhmut.  Along with that, Prigozhin charged that the army leadership was corrupt, that they refused to defend his flanks during the Bakhmut operation, and that they were losing massively in the Ukraine war.  None of these accusations were true. . . .

It turns out, however, there was more to it than that.  Sources report that Prigozhin had been in touch with Ukrainian military intelligence (known as the HUR MO), at least since last January. Some sources say that he also flew to Africa, where Wagner forces are operational, to hold a meeting with Ukrainian intelligence officials.

Similarly there are reports that he also was talking to a number of special force units inside Russia, asking them to join him.

I believe that Steve’s sources on this are solid. Pay particular attention to the timing — i.e., a meeting in January. It was a month or so later that Prigozhin launches scathing verbal attacks on Russian Defense Minster Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov. Also, according to documents allegedly posted to Discord by Airman Jack Teixeira, Prigozhin provided Ukraine/NATO with locations of Russian units in the Donbass.

This is strong circumstantial evidence that Prigozhin not only went rogue, he became a traitor. Let me make one obvious point from a counterintelligence standpoint — providing NATO with the locations of Russian units is the equivalent of giving Eskimos a truckload of snow in January. NATO’s robust ISR capabilities make it highly likely that those locations were already known to the U.S. and European military and intelligence officers. This type of corroborating intel is what George Smiley, the mole hunter in the British TV series, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, called “fools gold.” It looks like the real deal but, when properly evaluated, does not tell you anything you don’t already know. It simply persuades those eager to believe to swallow the bait.

I want to suggest an alternative possibility — Yevgeny Prigozhin was bait. The Russian military and intelligence chiefs are not deaf, dumb, and blind. Since the start of the Special Military Operation, Western politicians and pundits stridently have insisted that Putin is weak; Putin faces serious political opposition; Putin is terminally ill; and Russia is teetering on the brink of economic and political disaster. Here is former Ukrainian President Poroshenko throwing some shade Putin’s way:

Former CIA officer John Sipher’s silly analysis is itself evidence of why the CIA is a failed institution. He writes:

Like the Tsars before him, Putin has survived by a willingness to use force at home and abroad, and by maintaining an image of power. Over the past two decades, many observers have used the same phrase to describe Putin’s actions on the international stage — Putin plays a weak hand well. His bullying, threats and lies have protected him from those who might threaten his power.

However, like Tsar Nicholas in WWI, with his invasion of Ukraine, Putin foolishly turned over all his cards and showed his weak hand, seemingly breaking his spell of invincibility. In doing so he has allowed his enemies to better gauge their own strength and position. While it is not clear if Putin has gravely jeopardized his control at home, he has nonetheless weakened himself and Russia, and can no longer bluff that he is playing a winning hand.

I think the Russian leadership finally concluded that the West sincerely believed this nonsense and decided to send Washington and London their own version of Luca Brasi — a loyal soldier now ready to betray the family. You want a traitor? Here’s your traitor.

So far, Yevgeny Prigozhin has not suffered the same fate as Mr. Brasi. Instead, he returned from Africa to the bloody battle of Bakhmut, having assured his new buddies in the West that he was with them, and then began trashing Russian Defense leadership and tactics while passing “valuable” intelligence to his contacts in Ukraine.

Talk about titillating. Western political and intel chiefs in the know were quivering with the excitement of anticipating the moment when Prigozhin would make his bold move and the Russian house of cards would collapse. Who could stop the invincible Wagnerians led by Chef Prigozhin?

So we are left with two possibilities — Prigozhin flipped and decided to play for team Ukraine and team NATO or Prigozhin, a consummate actor, was a double agent who kept his colleagues in the GRU apprised of his plans and upcoming actions on behalf of NATO. Betraying Russia by becoming a Western agent — i.e., a guy who has agreed to spy for one or more of the Western intelligence outfits — is unpardonable. Guys and gals that do that are likely to suffer the same fate as the Godfather’s Luca Brasi.

When I step back and examine Prigozhin’s actions after the start of the mutiny, I am reminded of an actor engaged in improvisation. Just take a look at Prigozhin’s completely contradictory and provably false claims over the weekend about why he was leading the mutiny. First he said that Putin is a dupe who was fed lies about the unnecessary and illegitimate invasion of Ukraine:

Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin on Friday cast doubt on Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s justifications for launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, saying they were lies fed to him by the Kremlin’s top brass.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has been “deceiving” Russian society and Putin, Prigozhin said in an expletive-ridden 30-minute video posted on his Telegram channel. It has escalated his public feud with Sergei Shoigu, the country’s defense minister.

The Russian businessman, a longtime ally of Putin, has for months been intensifying his verbal barrage against Shoigu.

Then, two days later, he changes gears and insists it was just a protest:

Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Monday that a one-day mutiny by his Wagner force had been intended not to overthrow Russia’s government but to register a protest over what he said was its ineffectual conduct of the war in Ukraine.

In his first public comments since ending the mutiny late on Saturday, Prigozhin repeated his frequent claim that Wagner was the most effective fighting force in Russia “and even the world”, and that it put to shame the units that Moscow had sent into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Which is it? Protest or howl of outrage over heinous lies?

One more data point. David Sanger and Julian Barnes, writing for the New York Times, report that:

American intelligence officials briefed senior military and administration officials on Wednesday that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary Wagner Group, was preparing to take military action against senior Russian defense officials, according to officials familiar with the matter.

U.S. spy agencies had indications days earlier that Mr. Prigozhin was planning something and worked to refine that material into a finished assessment, officials said.

The information shows that the United States was aware of impending events in Russia, similar to how intelligence agencies had warned in late 2021 that Vladimir V. Putin was planning to invade Ukraine.

Got that? The U.S. knew in advance. Any chance the Russians had an inkling of what was afoot?

Some smart analysts argue that Russia would not engage in such an elaborate ruse because of the risks that it could go wrong or that it would portray Russia as vulnerable. A fair point. However, Russia realizes it is at war with the West, not just metaphorically, and that the United States and many countries in Europe are keen to see it ripped asunder. When an opportunity to blow up that meme falls into your lap, you take it.

Russia was able to accomplish several objectives during this double-cross mutiny. It moved troops to areas under the guise of countering the coup that otherwise would have drawn attention and possible attack if carried out during normal wartime operations. Vladimir Putin gained a better appreciation of his popular support. Not even the Communist Party, which despises Putin, came out to back Prigozhin. The West continues to insist that this was a show of weakness by Putin. Really? No political opponent of any consequence jumped on the coup bandwagon. The Russian people did not flock to the streets in an Orange revolution rush calling for Putin’s head. Just the opposite.

Let’s imagine an alternative scenario. There is a coup/mutiny in Washington, DC against Joe Biden. Does anyone really believe that the 50 Governors and all members of the Senate and House would rush to Joe Biden’s defense? I don’t.

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Author: Larry Johnson