Putin, stained by Prigozhin’s death, is facing calls for a military funeral

RIGA, Latvia – The Kremlin said on Monday that the decision for the funerals of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, mercenary chief Dmitry Utkin and other members of the group rests largely with their families, after hard-line nationalists called for Prigozhin to be buried with his entire military force. The decorations, in a sign of the continuing divisions in Russia over the war in Ukraine.

Prigozhin, Utkin and others in their entourage were killed when their private jet crashed last week following what Western intelligence agencies said was an onboard explosion. Russian investigators said on Sunday they had confirmed Prigozhin’s death using DNA.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that no decision had been made about the funerals or whether President Vladimir Putin would attend. These revolving questions have highlighted persistent divisions within the Russian elite over the war, and the dangers posed by pro-war “hardcore patriots” who have called for a tougher approach to Ukraine.

As the Kremlin weighed the risks of potential unrest if Putin failed to give Prigozhin and Wagner their due as “war heroes,” Kremlin propaganda has fueled competing theories about the cause of the accident, seemingly intended to quell suspicions in Russian society that Prigozhin’s death was behind the accident. Targeted assassination with the direct or indirect Kremlin participation.

Most preachers blamed Ukraine and Western intelligence agencies, with one account suggesting that Wagner’s “careless handling of ammunition” could be to blame.

Prigozhin, who earned billions and the nickname “Putin’s chef” through lucrative government catering contracts, was the public face of Wagner’s bloody, months-long assault on the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which the Russians eventually captured in late May. This has led many commentators to credit him with Russia’s major military victory since the early days of the war.

Prigozhin also led a short-lived insurrection in June against the Russian military leadership, with Wagner seizing a headquarters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and a convoy of fighters heading toward Moscow before being withdrawn.

Since last week’s plane crash, spontaneous memorials have sprung up in Russian cities honoring Prigozhin, a polarizing figure whose barbs of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russia’s chief of the General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, have been shared by many supporters. Militants in the war and some members of the army.

Prigozhin’s death is seen by many in the Russian elite as a clear sign that Putin is moving to reassert his control after Wagner’s rebellion in June made him appear weak and ineffective.

Before Prigozhin’s plane crash, Russia was preparing for life after Wagner

The Russian president is on the side of Shoigu and Gerasimov, and he has dismissed top generals close to Prigozhin or critics of senior officers, including General Sergei Surovikin, known as “General Armageddon” for his tough approach in Syria and repeatedly praised by Russia. Prigozhin.

But the Kremlin now faces a delicate balancing act in its handling of the funerals of Wagner’s leaders, as Putin tries to separate Prigozhin, whom he condemned as a traitor, in the public mind from Wagner, whom he praised for her fighting in Ukraine. .

However, these efforts met with limited success, with Prigozhin becoming synonymous with the Wagner brand for many Russians. Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov on Sunday called Wagner “one of the few things the people of Russia can be proud of in this Ukraine crisis.”

With the exception of Wagner, everything else was “extremely slow, with too many defeats, too many mistakes and weaknesses.” “Wagner is strength and victory,” Markov wrote in a telegram.

Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute and an expert on Russian security issues, compared Prigozhin’s upcoming funeral to the mafia funerals he once attended as a researcher – a chance to see who shows the most grief and sends messages. The largest wreath. But Galeotti said the funeral posed difficulties for the Kremlin after Putin condemned Prigozhin as a traitor during the revolt.

Many have argued that Prigozhin — known to have been secretly awarded Russia’s highest honour, Hero of Russia — and Utkin would have been expected to be buried with military honors for their roles in the Ukraine war, had it not been for their leadership. His role in the June revolution

“It’s difficult because, on the one hand, it’s clear that the patriots are expecting that,” Galeotti said, referring to the military funeral. “And if the state denies it, it becomes once again part of the myth of the stab in the back of the true defenders of the Fatherland.” On the one hand, providing it may seem bad, and negotiating it is complicated.

Amid warnings from pro-Kremlin analysts inside Russia that it was foolish and dangerous to publicly ignore Wagner, Galeotti said the Kremlin line was to cast Wagner members as “heroes” fighting for Russia. “But I don’t know if they can really choose Prigozhin,” he said. “I think they can try to do that with Wagner, and they just hope Prigozhin fades away.”

“What they will try to do is treat them separately, which could also mean two different funerals, not Prigozhin and Utkin, but Prigozhin and Utkin.”

Others claim that any ignoring of Prigozhin’s funeral would be politically dangerous, and could be seen as evidence pointing to the Kremlin’s hand in the plane crash.

Moscow-based political analyst Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center said the best option for the Kremlin is to control Prigozhin’s funeral to avoid social media wrath and manage the spectacle of the event.

Kolesnikov said that the Kremlin and the Russian Federal Security Service “may be afraid of unrest during the funeral, so it is better to privatize and ‘nationalize’ the funeral, so that Prigozhin is not handed over to unofficial groups, but left under state control.” control, in order to preserve the image of the statesman who “stumbled” but could be forgiven.

For Putin, all the bandits who participated in the “special operation” (in Ukraine) and agreed to become cannon fodder are “Russian patriots” and “heroes”. “This means that a complex figure like Prigozhin is also a ‘patriot’ and a ‘hero’,” Kolesnikov said, “especially when Prigozhin is dead and poses no threat to Putin.”

Russia confirms the death of Wagner’s chief Prigozhin after DNA tests

Igor Korotchenko, a hardline critic and defense analyst who appears frequently on state television, He said On Telegram it was “right” that the funerals of Prigozhin and Utkin should be held with full military honours, including an honor guard, military salute and performance of the national anthem.

Victor Baranets, another hardline Russian military analyst, warned of the danger of the funeral turning into a “political show” unless the authorities intervened and put intense pressure on the Prigozhin family to say they wanted a quiet and closed ceremony.

“A lot of people really want to politicize this process,” Paranets said. “Do you really want two million people to gather, march around St. Petersburg with banners, a portrait of the hero in front, and a band? That’s what some scumbag dreams about. They want to turn the funeral into a political show. It might happen.”

Ilya Ananiev, another pro-Kremlin analyst, said in an interview broadcast on Telegram that the funeral posed “a difficult dilemma for Vladimir Putin himself,” as the Kremlin fell into the trap of its media policy against Prigozhin and Wagner.

Ananiev said this meant Prigozhin’s death had cast a “shadow” over Putin, amid widespread suspicion in Russia that the Kremlin played a role in the plane crash.

“The Kremlin will have to deal with the reputational risks of this version, from which it seems to me virtually impossible to recover,” he said, adding that sudden expressions of admiration for Prigozhin by state propagandists would sound “pretentious and ridiculous.” “.

The enduring popularity of Wagner’s boss Prigozhin presents a challenge to Putin

“Putin should not ride in the general human flow of the event to see off Yevgeny Prigozhin and his colleagues in front of the cameras,” Ananiev said. “The president should say goodbye to Prigozhin quietly, alone with his family.”

Ananiev said Putin needed to meet the families of Prigozhin and other Wagner members, and offer them “special attention and guarantees,” and that the Kremlin should release photos of these events at a later date to dispel rumors about Putin’s involvement in the incident.

Once Prigozhin is buried, Kolesnikov said, “the Kremlin can rest.” He added that the Kremlin, by arresting Putin critic Igor Girkin last month, had alerted ultra-nationalists that criticism of Putin and the war would not be tolerated.

He said, “Patriots must realize after Girkin’s arrest and Prigozhin’s death that they have no value unless they are loyal to Putin.”

Some nationalists portrayed Prigozhin and Wagner as charismatic heroes who demonstrated Russia’s most aggressive global role.

Alexander Dugin, the far-right Christian nationalist whose daughter Daria Duzhina, an outspoken nationalist journalist, was killed in a car bombing in Moscow last summer, said Saturday that Prigozhin’s death left a “charismatic vacuum,” calling the Wagner leader “the first living response to that.” to meet the challenge of the present.

He said a new “Great Russia Hero” was needed, referring to Russia’s expansion, adding that “whoever comes after Prigozhin should follow him at his best, on a larger scale, while avoiding his mistakes.”

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