Prigozhin’s Death is a Neat Fix to an Ugly Problem

Sydney Scott, Jan 8, 2024

On June 23, 2023, the Wagner Group and its former chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, initiated a historic rebellion against the Russian Ministry of Defence. On August 23, 2023, precisely two months after the mutiny, Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash in Russia; the most glaring threat Putin’s reign has seen was met with a violently efficient response. 


The revolt revealed deeper infighting within the Kremlin than many suspected. Videos released by the Wagner Group show a furious Prigozhin, spotlighted in a field of bloodied corpses. He is heard pleading with the Minister of Defence and Chief of General Staff for assistance: “Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where is the f*****g ammunition? Look at them, for f***s sake” [1]. Tensions between the Wagner boss and the Kremlin were at a record high, and Prigozhin’s death was an unmistakable warning from Putin. It is likely that this event may fuel even more distrust within the country’s oligarchy and could ultimately cause it to unravel. 


The Wagner Group’s mutiny is undoubtedly the most significant challenge to Putin’s control of Russia since he took office as President almost twenty-five years ago [2]. In March 2022, Russia’s parliament approved a life sentence for treason, and the country has historically restricted freedoms of speech and press, despite Constitutional provisions that allow them [3]. The consequences of rebelling against the government are too grim for the average dissatisfied Russian to pursue, and as a result, uprisings are very rare [4]. Prigozhin led a shocking demonstration of resistance that Russia rarely experiences.


Exterminating threats is nothing new to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin – for years, the regime has resorted to poisoning, shooting, and fabricating “accidents” in order to maintain the status quo. Prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with Soviet-era Novichok; independent journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead by five men and one former police officer; three vocal critics of Putin’s involvement in Ukraine mysteriously fell to their deaths from dangerously high windows [5]. Prigozhin was met with bitter revenge from Putin, who is widely suspected to have initiated the unusually convenient crash [6]. Killing unwanted individuals, however, does not kill an entire ideology – it simply eliminates the major voices that do not conform.


The Kremlin wants to be respected as the impenetrable force ruling over almost one hundred and forty-four million Russians. They are protected by state-controlled media, their members’ vast international wealth, and if they’re lucky, Putin. Commonly obliterated opponents included journalists, opposition figures, and prisoners of war, but not a close confidant in Putin's inner circle [7]. Prigozhin publicly singling out Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov for more ammunition during the war is a stunning display of resistance against their rigid control, coupled with the highly publicized mutiny orchestrated shortly after.


We witness partisan infighting constantly in the United States, from Senate floor debates to charged Twitter threads – but it is not common to see leaders outright slaughtering one another. When the hidden tensions and conflicts between members of the Kremlin become violent and public, it naturally makes Russians wary of their president's next moves. If it is true that he eliminated a close confidant with such ease, he certainly would not hesitate to do the same to an ordinary citizen who oversteps political boundaries. Aside from fueling general distrust and fear among constituents, government infighting creates an impasse to policymaking – resources are diverted, personal beliefs cloud policy disputes, and legislation grinds to a halt as deadlock is reached. When citizens witness their governments beginning to weaken, a new era of social change is ushered in.


The French Revolution and the Arab Spring are pertinent examples of this phenomenon; government infighting and corruption spur citizens to overthrow the regimes. France’s oppressive feudal system and dated monarchy was replaced by civil laws and legislative representation [8]. The authoritarian regimes of the Middle East and North Africa were superseded by novel democracies, replacing entrenched oligarchs with free elections and new constitutions [9]. Social upheaval occurs predictably with enough willing participants and a radical ideology – fighting hard to force corrupt governments out of power. When dissatisfaction with the government surpasses the fear of punishment, Russians will no longer be too scared to actually protest and overthrow the regime – and that turning point is approaching.  If Putin can’t restore faith in the Russian constituency after Prigozhin’s death, the Kremlin could be the next regime to unravel.


[1] “Wagner Boss Prigozhin Slams Russian Officials from a Field of Corpses.” YouTube, May 5, 2023.

[2] Stanovaya, Tatiana. “Beneath the Surface, Prigozhin’s Mutiny Has Changed Everything in ...” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 27, 2023.

[3] “Russia’s Parliament Increases Penalty for Treason, Terrorism.” AP News, April 18, 2023.

[4] “Russia Criminalizes Independent War Reporting, Anti-War Protests.” Human Rights Watch, July 26, 2023.

[5] Brugen, Isabel van. “Full List of Russians to Fall out of Windows since Putin Invaded Ukraine.” Newsweek, February 16, 2023.

[6] Sauer, Pjotr. “Twenty Years of Ruthlessness: How Russia Has Silenced Putin’s Opponents.” The Guardian, August 27, 2023.

[7] Kirby, Paul. “Ukraine Conflict: Who’s in Putin’s Inner Circle and Running the War?” BBC News, June 24, 2023.

[8] “French Revolution.” Encyclopædia Britannica, October 20, 2023.

[9] “Arab Spring.” Encyclopædia Britannica, October 17, 2023.