You Say Yevgeny, I say Eugene. Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.
I once knew a guy named Yevgeny. We used to work together. He was the nicest guy in the world. A little guy, with the slightest trace of a Russian accent. You didn’t hear the accent most of the time, but occasionally it would show itself when he pronounced words that began with “H”. It started with a something like a “K” sound with a tight hiss behind it. There isn’t really any sound like it in English, so it was very noticeable when it happened.
I knew him as Eugene, but when he explained that he was born in Russia, and that his name was actually Yevgeny, I found that fascinating. Again, this guy, this Yevgeny was just the nicest guy. He was friendly, humorous, intelligent, and gregarious. He’s definitely the type of person you would like to meet. He’s the first person I ever met with the name Yevgeny, so I developed a fondness for the name. It almost means nice guy to me.
Lately, another Yevgeny is in the news. By all accounts, this other Yevgeny is a very different type of guy. This Yevgeny, Yevgeny Prigozhin is the evil, sadistic mercenary former leader of the Wagner Group, which recently attempted an armed insurrection against the Russian military, and Vladimir Putin. Yevgeny Prigozhin led the Wagner Group with an iron first, or maybe, more aptly, an iron sledgehammer. Descriptions of Prigozhin’s behavior are distasteful to even mention, but I offer one to explain my use of the terms sadist, and sledgehammer.
Prigozhin reportedly would punish members of his Wagner Group who had attempted to dessert with being beaten with a sledgehammer. He would crush their hands and feet. This Yevgeny was as evil and brutal as his namesake friend of mine was kind and pleasant. And as evil and Prigozhin was, I found myself rooting for him in the last two days.
Prigozhin was on a “March for justice” as he put it, toward Moscow with his band of mercenaries, ostensibly to topple Vladimir Putin. Putin is every bit as evil as Prigozhin. Prigozhin had been working for Putin, in order for Putin to achieve several unjust aims, most especially the invasion of Ukraine. For some reason that is not entirely clear to me, I saw it as a positive that Prigozhin had decided to topple Putin. Prigozhin is no better, but it seemed that taking away from Putin’s power was a good thing, however it might be achieved.
Everyone now knows that this did not come to pass. Prigozhin stopped 2 hours outside of Moscow, before his forces met with Putin’s defenses. The leader of Belarus negotiated a deal where Prigozhin would leave Russia, and end his coup attempt, in exchange for the dropping of an investigation into his activities. Most are of the opinion that Prigozhin’s prospects are not very good. Putin has a history of murdering dissidents, no matter where they are located in the world, and Putin has no compunction about going back on agreements. One power mad sadist came in conflict with another power mad sadist, and it appears that the power mad sadist has won.
I caution myself against feeling sorry for Prigozhin. I think it would be unwise for the United States or our allies to do anything to save Prigozhin. I even feel badly about having rooted for Prigozhin while it appeared that he had a future. There was no actual rational gains to be had.
That said, those who do or would oppose Putin have realized two very significant gains. First, Putin’s veneer of invincibility has been destroyed. Putin is much weaker than he appeared approximately 3 days ago. And the second thing, quite possibly the most significant, Putin has shown himself to be rational. That is a very, very good thing for the world. Until this app attempt by Prigozhin, Putin had to his advantage the notion that he may be a madman willing to start a nuclear war if he is sufficiently aggravated. And while Putin still has every nuclear weapon that he had 3 days ago, the nuclear saber rattler prospect has been eliminated.
Putin executed a complex, rational, careful negotiation to remove Prigozhin, and carefully avoided exchanging shots until the last minute. Putin did not handle this threat in a way that would be consistent with the Putin that he wants the world to fear. That is a very good thing for everyone. Of course, that does not mean that Putin could not change tactics and become the person that we thought he might have been previously, but that is unlikely now.
Going forward, I don’t know what the future holds for Putin. He is considerably weaker domestically, and abroad. Impatience with him is growing. The fear that holds the Russian Federation together is not what it once was. Putin may be toppled, and the Federation stays together, or countries could begin leaving. Putin and his military apparently can not do much to stop that. They are already stretched too thin.
In my mind, I rooted for one evil, crazy bastard to get rid of another evil crazy bastard. And while the evil bastard remains, we may have eliminated the crazy. That’s a good thing.