The Wagner Factor and the Thesis of Justice

“Wagner PMC must transform from a simple private army — the best in the world, I’ll emphasize — that is capable of defending the state, into an army with an ideology. This ideology is the struggle for justice."

 Evgeny Prigozhin in Bakhmut, 11 March 2023

Over the course of the Special Military Operation, Wagner PMC and Evgeny Prigozhin have confidently settled into the center of attention of both Russian society and the global public. For Russians, they have become the foremost symbol of victory, decisiveness, heroism, courage, and steadfastness. For the enemy: a source of hatred, but at the same time fear and horror. What is important is that Prigozhin is not simply leading the most battle-worthy, victorious, and unstoppable unit among Russia’s armed forces, but at the same is giving expression to those feelings, thoughts, demands, and hopes that live in the hearts of people at war, of those engaged in the war fully and until the very end, irreversibly immersed in its primal element.

Prigozhin has accepted this war to the end, to the very bottom, to the last depths. This principle is shared by the members of Wagner PMC and by all those who are moving in this direction and towards the same goal — difficult, bloody, almost unattainable, but so desired and longed-for Victory. Wagner PMC is no private military company. Money has nothing to do with it. It is a brotherhood of warriors, a Russian guard, which Evgeny Prigozhin has assembled out of those who have responded to the call of the Motherland in her most difficult moment and have gone to defend her, ready to pay any price.

You may naturally ask: What about our other warriors? What about the Donbass militia who have been fighting in inhuman conditions since 2014, forgotten by everyone but firmly standing at their posts? What about our volunteers who of their own free will have gone to the fronts of the new Fatherland War which they recognized behind the imprecise name “Special Military Operation”? What, after all, about the regular troops from different units who are crushing the enemy and losing their brothers in ferocious clashes? What about Ramzan Kadyrov’s heroic Chechens? Of course, they are all heroes, and they all bear the invaluable particles of our common Victory, to which they have given themselves to the very end.

But Evgeny Prigozhin and Wagner PMC are different. They are not only ahead of the rest, at the most difficult sectors of the front, storming meter by meter, house by house, street by street, village by village, city by city with super-human tenacity, liberating their native land from a cruel, vile, maniacal enemy. They have given a style to this war, they have become its symbols, they have found the most accurate and the most sincere words to express what is ongoing. This is one of those most rare cases when military exploits, already incredible in their significance and scale, are accompanied by equally poignant ideological declarations which are understandable to everyone in Russia.

This war is a war for justice. It is being waged against evil and violence, against lies and deceit, against cruelty and imposture. Yet, if this is the case, then it is directed not only against the direct enemy, that is Ukrainian Nazism and the globalist liberal West supporting it, but also against the injustice that is at times being done inside Russia itself. Wagner’s war is a people’s war, a liberation war, a purifying war. It does not accept half measures, agreements, compromises, and negotiations behind the backs of fighting heroes. Wagner PMC values life very highly: both its own and the enemy’s. And it values death — the only cost for which Victory is afforded, that for which only death can be paid, and nothing else.

The aesthetic apotheosis is Prigozhin’s programmatic film, The Best in Hell (Лучшие в аду, 2022). Here is the new Hemingway, the new Ernst Jünger.

This great film is about the primal element of war, the cost of life and death, the deep existential transformations that a person undergoes when he happens to he find himself immersed in the inexorable process of deadly confrontation with an enemy — an enemy who is not something radically different, but the reverse side of himself. Prigozhin is not simply waging war; he comprehends war, he accepts its horrific logic, he freely and sovereignly enters into its element, and this is why he is such a nightmare for the enemy.

It is obvious that for the Kiev Nazi regime, which has no such symbols and which genuinely fears and hates Wagner PMC most of all in this war, as well as for the true subject that has pushed Ukraine to attack Russia and is arming it to every possible extent, Evgeny Prigozhin himself is the main priority, at once a specific and a symbolic target. That the enemy knows the value of symbols, there can be no doubt. One should not be surprised that it is Wagner PMC that incites such rabid hatred from the enemy and that the West has thrown all of its forces into destroying this formation and Evgeny Prigozhin himself.

Inside Russia, the people accept Prigozhin unconditionally. Without any doubt, first place in this war belongs to him. Whatever he says or does resonates right here in the heart of the people, in society, in the broad Russian and Eurasian masses. This is one of the many paradoxes of our history: an ethnic Jew, an oligarch, a person with a rather rugged past, has before our very eyes turned into the archetype of the purely Russian hero, a symbol of justice and honor for the whole people. This says much about Prigozhin himself as well as our people. We believe in deeds, eyes, and words when they come from the depths. This depth in Evgeny Prigozhin cannot be overlooked.

The Russian elites are another matter. Precisely because Prigozhin has made a blood pact — with his own blood and that of the heroes of Wagner — with the Russian people, with the Russian majority, he is most hated by that part of the elite which has not accepted the war as its fate, has not realized the war’s true and fundamental motives, and to this day has not seen the mortal danger hanging over the country. It seems to the elite that Prigozhin is simply thrashing to get into power and is preparing a “black redistribution” with the support of the people. For this part of the Russian elite, the very word “justice” is unbearable and burns like the flames of hell. After all, Prigozhin himself is from the elite, but he has found the courage to renounce the class of the rich, the exploiters, the cynics, and the cosmopolitans who despise everyone less successful, and he has gone over to the side of the people at war saving the country.

In such a situation, analysts who have been like servants to these elites are wondering: How can Prigozhin afford to behave with such a degree of determination, audacity, and independence? Is he an experiment of much more influential forces — indeed, simply the highest forces — in Russian politics who are using his example to test society’s readiness for tougher rules and a more consistently patriotic, people-oriented politics? In other words, are Evgeny Prigozhin and Wagner PMC the forerunners of a fully-fledged Oprichnina? After all, in the era of Ivan the Terrible, the Oprichnina army was formed in battles and, as in the case of Wagner, out of the most daring, courageous, strong, reliable, and active, regardless of their pedigree, title, status, rank, or position in society.

No one has been able to get away with what Prigozhin is getting away with within the political system that Russia knows.

This means, as analysts conclude, that he will either soon be punished for his insolence, or that this familiar political system no longer exists, and that before our very eyes some other, some unfamiliar, new system is taking shape, one in which values will significantly shift towards the elites’ hated justice, honesty, courage, and true frontline brotherhood.

Despite all their wishes, external observers cannot reliably determine what kind of relationship Evgeny Prigozhin personally has with the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. Does he coordinate his hard line with the top leadership of the country or not? There are those who are convinced that Prigozhin’s Oprichnina is sanctioned from above, but there are also those who believe that this is an amateur, self-styled performance, albeit one that has surprisingly accurately met the expectations of the majority. For the Russian government as a whole, uncertainty is their natural habitat. No one can fully understand where and when we are dealing with the personal will of the President, and where and when with the initiative of his associates trying to grasp in advance and anticipate the “commander’s intention” (a classic term from the theory of network-centric warfare).

This is a rather pragmatic approach: in this case, the President ends up being above any clashes within the elite, and there is complete freedom to transform the system (first and foremost in a patriotic vein). If one wishes, one could presume that all patriotic initiatives, even the most avant-garde ones (like Wagner PMC), are being carried out with his tacit consent. But no one knows for sure — there is only guesswork. Prigozhin is cultivating this uncertainty to the maximum extent and with the maximum effect.

Meanwhile, love and trust for Prigozhin and Wagner PMC are growing, and so in parallel is the anxiety of the elites. Society is beginning to see in Prigozhin something more than merely a successful and audacious field commander, a “warlord”. The configuration that prevailed in the elite before the SMO allowed for a certain oligarchic stratum (on the condition of personal loyalty to the supreme authority) to remain part of the liberal globalist world system. The people grumbled, lamented, and complained about this, but as long as Russia’s sovereignty was strengthened and as long as it seemed that nothing threatened the country, this could be tolerated somehow. After the SMO began, this contradiction was fully exposed. Russia has come face-to-face in deadly battle with the West, which has thrown itself at our country with all its might, yet the Russian elite has continued by inertia to slavishly follow the land of the setting sun, to copy its standards and methods, to keep their savings abroad, and to dream about Courchevel and the Bahamas. Part of the elite has outright fled, and part has laid low to wait for all of this to end. And here the “Prigozhin factor” has appeared, now in the form of a political figure who has become the mouthpiece of popular anger towards the remaining oligarchic elites stubbornly refusing to accept the new realities of the war and to act as Evgeny Prigozhin himself has done, that is to go to the front or, in the very least, become involved in the cause of Victory entirely and without reserve. If the West is our enemy, then a supporter of the West, a “Westerner” (zapadnik), is a traitor and direct agent of the enemy. If you are not fighting the West, then that means that you are on its side. This is the simple logic voiced by Prigozhin. In his decisive battle with the external enemy, the popular masses have seen the second — future — act, that is the transposition of similar methods to dealing with the internal enemy. This is “justice” in its popular, albeit vulgar understanding.

It is obvious that such an Oprichnina would not affect the people themselves in any way, because only class enemies, and today the political enemies of the common people, those who have ended up on the side against which the people are fighting anyway, would be the victims of “Wagnerian justice”. More and more strata of society are coming to the conclusion (albeit maybe too simplistic and linear) that it is precisely the “internal enemies”, the very same oligarchs and Westerners actively sabotaging the Supreme Commander’s will for Victory, that are responsible for the slips and some failures on the fronts. And this is where the “justice” factor comes in. We are ready to fight like Wagner, to die like Wagner, but by no means for the sake of returning to the Russia from before 24 February 2022, to the previous conditions. We demand purification, enlightenment, and the spiritual inspiration of society and the whole ruling class. We are fighting not just against the enemy, but also for justice.

The beginning of fundamental changes in Russian society is staring us in the face, albeit with a huge temporal delay. Evgeny Prigozhin personifies one of these directions. This is first and foremost a war in which Wagner is most vividly of all illustrating what meritocracy really is, that is the power of the most distinguished, the most courageous, the most deserving. The war elites are those who fulfill the tasks set before them best of all, and there are no other criteria. In fact, our armed forces — at least some of the most important assault components — clearly need to be rearranged to the tune of Wagner. With one criterion for assessment: effectiveness. In the conditions of war, the old criterion of loyalty combined with courtiership skills is no longer enough. Loyalty is implied in war, otherwise execution is immediate. But now something more is needed: the ability to handle tasks. At any cost. Even at the cost of our own and others’ lives. This alone brings out the best. And the worst. All that remains is to put the best over the worst, and the whole cause will go to Victory.

This does not only apply to war. In politics, economics, governance, administration, and even in education and culture, similar trends are gradually beginning to make themselves felt. People of a special type are capable of acting and achieving significant results in states of emergency.

Lev Gumilev called such types “passionaries.” In more ordinary prose, they are “crisis managers”.

We can speak of “Wagner principles” in all domains: those who most effectively handle the most difficult and unfulfillable tasks set before them shall come to the fore. Those who don’t manage shall recede to the back. In Vilfredo Pareto’s political terminology, this is called “circulation of elites”. In Russia, this is going extremely sluggishly and sporadically, and most often of all it is not going on at all. War demands the “circulation of elites” in the order of an ultimatum. This is a real horror for the old elites who have lost their capacity and have been cut off from their matrix in the West.

Evgeny Prigozhin has pointed out the most important vector for the direction in which Russia will have to move under any given conditions and in any given circumstances. This is why the West dreams of destroying him and is counting on the old Russian elites, who no longer measure up to the challenges of the moment, to help them in this. The stakes are constantly rising. Victory is at stake. The path to Victory runs through justice alone.

[Translated by J.A.. Painting by Valentina Rakagon]