Events surrounding the sudden demise of, allegedly, a most cruel player in our war-torn world are the stuff of fiction.
Ten days ago, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the infamous leader of Wagner, the private paramilitary force of 25,000 fighters including former Russian prisoners, died in an aeroplane that crashed halfway between Moscow and St Petersburg, killing all ten people on board.
Among the six other passengers was Wagner senior commander Dmitry Utkin, who founded Wagner in 2014. He reportedly admired Nazi Germany, hence the name.
So Wagner’s top brass was wiped out and a vacuum created in the leadership of the group that has swaths of Africa in its grip. Exactly what thousands of Wagner mercenaries – considered part of Russian defence forces – are doing in Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali is a bit of a mystery.
It seems Prigozhin, a former chef and long-time friend of Vladimir Putin, who had no military experience, was given the job of leading Russia’s Africa foreign affairs policy, which consists of supporting either rebel groups or governments to enable getting a foothold into gold and other mining and business ventures.
Then Wagner, which is reportedly generously funded by the Kremlin and the gold it trades in, got involved in the Ukraine debacle and brought Prigozhin into direct conflict with Putin’s military men.
Prigozhin won recent international attention for criticising Russian generals on their conduct of the Ukraine war and for staging what looked like an attempted coup in June, which he says he aborted only because the point of the generals’ ineptitude had been made.
For two months he seemed to enjoy great freedom of movement. after apparently being pardoned by Putin who initially condemned the episode as a betrayal, but Prigozhin suffered from that old, dangerous enemy: hubris. He made the mistake so many other high achievers often do of believing their own PR, and he lost touch with reality. Every Trini child once knew that conceitedness was no virtue. It cost Putin’s one-time friend his life.
Writing in the latest Atlantic, Anne Applebaum (my favourite Russian commentator) points out that Prigozhin was just one of a host of prominent Russians who have been exterminated in Putin’s time. They include security chiefs, parliamentarians, journalists, critics and political activist Alexi Navalny, who famously survived poisoning while abroad only to return defiantly to Moscow and end up behind bars for the foreseeable future. Applebaum highlights that since Ukraine, Putin is targeting another sort of Russian – business tycoons, executives and their families are committing suicides, drowning in pools, slipping down stairs, falling out of windows and over cliffs at home and abroad. Maybe they were considered guilty of treason.
It is interesting to consider that in the US, which has become a civilian killing field – over 25,000 people murdered so far this year in gun violence – that President Trump is still alive, when he is so very detestable and dangerous.
Violence against US politicians was once not a strange event. In my lifetime several presidents and vice presidents, political and civil rights leaders have been killed or attacked. And, if Mike Pence had not escaped the Trump supporters in 2021, he would be included in that list. General Colin Powell, of Jamaican parentage, could easily have been the US’s first African-American Republican president, but did not run for fear of being assassinated; and we all half-expected Barack Obama to leave the White House in a hearse.
It must be that US presidential security has been seriously tightened up, although it would be difficult to say the same about US Congress security.
It is interesting, too, that none of the violence and presidential killings have proven to be organised by anybody “in charge” – Trump is the only president held to account for openly ordering violence against fellow politicians. Yet there is much suspicion and some evidence that the violence against and murder of black civil-rights leaders were state conspiracies.
Nonetheless, it is exciting to see how US democracy is organising itself to stymie Trump’s presidential chances. It has been a meticulous, if slow, legal campaign, but the battle is on. With 44 federal charges and 47 state charges facing him, some of those 91 must stick. They have to.
The only people who do not fear the return of Donald Trump are the naive, and nobody would want him back in the Oval Office more than Putin. It is clear from his police mugshot that Trump means to get even with America and all those actively trying to protect the world from his narcissistic idiocy. He has said so. He will be unable to employ President Putin’s methods of eliminating his enemies. for, happily, although lots of Americans seem to adore demigods, their democracy protects them from such dangers.
PM Rowley was right in his Independence Day speech to remind us of our role as citizens in the management of this country’s affairs. We must work to preserve our democracy. It requires vigilance over the actions of our leaders and speaking up when we disagree, because it is not always the wisest who prevail. Our voices matter.