Riddle news week

Prigozhin will live on

Andrei Pertsev sums up the week (August 28 — September 1)

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The Kremlin has turned Yevgeny Prigozhin’s funeral into a spy series of sorts. Prestigious cemeteries in his hometown of St Petersburg were cordoned off with mysterious hearses cruising around. In the end, the powerful businessman was buried on the outskirts of the city, next to his father and stepfather. Once bitten, twice shy, the siloviki and officials hid the location of the funeral to prevent the occasion from turning into a crowded public event and a potential rally. Most likely it would not have — the cordoned-off cemeteries were not besieged by crowds, people preferred to watch the Kremlin-organised show on the news. The effect was rather the opposite of the one intended — the Kremlin (and thus Vladimir Putin) demonstrated its fear of their nemesis, even the dead one. There is also another fear: the Russian president is afraid that the majority of his voters will no longer support him and start drifting away in some other direction. The Kremlin has once again tried to act from a position of strength, but ended up exposing its hidden anxieties. However, the operation to conceal the actual burial site has worked to the advantage of the Russian authorities, although it was hardly planned.

The confusion surrounding Prigozhin’s funeral has once again raised the question of whether the founder of «Wagner» had been indeed killed to begin with. Some of his followers believe that he is still alive and that the plane crash was a cover for his new and very important mission. This is a typical behavior of music fans who refuse to believe the death of their idol and indulge in conspiracy theories instead that suggest that the idol in question is in fact alive. That was the case with Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain and the Russian rock star Viktor Tsoi. As we have already written, for most of his fans Prigozhin was a popular media figure, an on-screen character, rather than an actual human being, that is why they subscribe to this logic of music fans. Some political scientists seeking to please and entertain the public argue that Yevgeny Prigozhin staged his own death. The same complacency is practised by the authors of «Wagner”-linked Telegram channels, who even publish videos featuring the founder of «Wagner» that suggest that he is alive.

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s behaviour before his death also fuels conspiracy theories: the financial heavyweight was fond of hoaxes. Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Telegram channels wrote about Prigozhin’s death in a plane crash. It is still not entirely clear whether Yevgeny Nuzhin, a «Wagner» mercenary captured by Ukrainian Armed Forces, was executed with a sledgehammer by Prigozhin’s men. First, pro-Prigozhin channels released a video of Nuzhin’s execution with Prigozhin offering his commentary on it, and later these same channels circulated a video with Nuzhin leaving for the front again, very much alive and kicking and. However, the chronological sequence of these videos is confusing. The disguise of the funeral fits in well with Prigozhin’s puzzling behaviour in life and the usual logic of conspiracy theories. The Kremlin has certainly revealed its own fears, but it has also unwittingly helped to subdue Prigozhin’s most ardent supporters. These supporters are relatively few in number, but being armed and angry as they are, they can cause a lot of trouble: for example, they might try to find out why their commander was not given the state funeral with all the attendant pomp and circumstance that come with the title of the Hero of Russia? Or else they can also seek to punish the alleged perpetrators of Prigozhin’s murder. Conspiracies along the lines of «Prigozhin is alive, he just went on a holiday on some tropical islands» have a reassuring, soothing effect. If nothing has happened to the founder of «Wagner», there is no need to avenge him, but simply to sit and wait for his second coming, without looking for a new venue to employ one’s abilities. It is likely that the Kremlin will learn a lesson from this accidental gain and will continue to work with Yevgeny Prigozhin’s supporters in the same way: Telegram channels controlled by the presidential administration will probably post new conspiracy theories about Prigozhin’s life and his new service to the state.

Medvedev goes rogue

The deputy general secretary of «United Russia» party, Senator Sergei Perminov, has presented the ruling party’s new slogan for the upcoming elections: «We need victories on the front and successes on the home front». The presentation took place within a small circle of public officials, during a round table held at the pro-Kremlin Foundation for the Development of Civil Society. The slogan is reminiscent of the Soviet slogans: giant words of wisdom spoken by «great people» that were plastered on facades, banners and posters. The «United Russia» slogan does not contain the obligatory attribute of Soviet quotations: the name of the author, but Perminov did not hide it either. According to the senator, the slogan was produced by the leader of the ruling party, former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. The phrase is reminiscent of Joseph Stalin’s statements, and perhaps, Medvedev deliberately wanted to create a similarity: he references Stalin in his speeches, occasionally dons a leather trench coat and clearly seeks to be associated with the period of Stalinism. The cosplay of Soviet-era slogans is perfectly in line with Medvedev’s game of ultra-hawkishness, which is meant to appeal to Vladimir Putin’s taste. Putin is nostalgic for the USSR, his is clearly preoccupied with the war against Ukraine, and the party and its leader go along with this nostalgia and preoccupation. Putin will probably approve of and praise such a slogan. But the average voter is unlikely to embrace it: opinion polls have long shown that people are tired of war news, and are concerned with and worried about the news of mobilisation. A reference to the front is unlikely to help the UR’s ratings, the opposite will probably be the case: the slogan will make citizens think about mobilisation and other unpleasantries. The officials of the ruling party are certainly aware of this. It is no coincidence that they unveiled the new slogan at an expert event at the end of the election campaign in the regions (the vote is scheduled for the 10th of September), which means that they tried to cover it up as much as possible. And the slogan’s publication (albeit in a narrow circle) makes it possible to blame Medvedev if the party fails to show the planned results in any of the regions. However passionate Putin may be about the war, he has a sense of political pragmatism and is unlikely to approve of its violation. Sergei Perminov is a member of the presidential administration’s political bloc and is on good terms with Andrei Turchak, the general secretary of the «United Russia» party. Both the political bloc and Turchak are keen on reducing Medvedev’s influence on the party and would not mind to see him resign from the post of leader. Medvedev is not really popular with the public and is more of an obstacle to «United Russia» and those Kremlin officials who achieve good election results for the «United Russia» party.

Medvedev’s opponents resort to the obvious tactic of drawing attention to his unsuccessful moves and initiatives. Dmitry Medvedev’s public statements and tweets are often dangerously over the top, and his opponents have twigged his recklessness and are using it to their advantage. Posing as a super-hawk, the former president and prime minister made a provocative move when he suggested that Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be annexed to Russia. Medvedev did not post this proposal on his social networks, but published it instead in the nation’s popular tabloid Argumenty i Fakty, whose content is controlled by the presidential administration. Medvedev’s adversaries know very well that the idea of Abkhazia joining Russia is very unpopular and could cause unrest among the population. Nevertheless, no one stopped Medvedev. He was allowed to make this mistake. Obviously, the former president got an earful from the Kremlin for his blunder and had to correct himself. A few days after the publication, Medvedev met with the leaders of the unrecognised republics, listened to them talk about the importance of independence for them, and also spoke of «allied relations». The former president, who deliberately exaggerates his efforts to keep Putin’s attention, is increasingly falling into the traps set for him by his opponents in the presidential apparatus, and it is likely that one of these traps will deprive Medvedev of the last shreds of influence he has, for example his leadership of the United Russia party.

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