Some commentary on Prigozhin and the drone attack on the Kremlin
I first learned of John Helmer today
BROADCASTING THIS EVENING FROM THE KREMLIN ROOF FOR TNT RADIO’S WAR OF THE WORLDS
By John Helmer, Moscow
To an alien from another planet, where curiosity starts with naivety, the question is being asked why earthlings calling themselves the state media of Russia report analysis of an attack on the most obvious symbol of their state from two Americans who have spent their active service careers sworn to defeat what that symbol stands for — one of them in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the other in the US Marine Corps (USMC).
Having retired years ago, and lacking access to the secret CIA and USMC intelligence which was once their stock in trade, everything they know about Russia comes – they sometimes admit – from Russia.
The naïve but curious alien might therefore be forgiven for asking the earthlings to explain why the following headlines in the Russian state news agency Sputnik could possibly be believable – at least to an alien: “Former CIA Officer Reveals Possible Motive Behind Kremlin Drone Attack”; and “Scott Ritter on Kremlin Strike: Zelensky Gov ‘Now a Legitimate Target’”.
How could these two retired warfighting soldiers against Russia possibly know?
The answer to this, the alien acknowledges, he can’t answer directly. So he has asked twelve naïve questions in this TNT Radio broadcast of War of the Worlds.
Question 1. How many drones, one or two, detonated over the Senate building dome in the Kremlin on the evening of May 2-3? Answer: Two (lead images, left and centre). Click to watch the first drone attack here. The first and second drone videoclips have been presented in sequence by Andrew Napolitano here.
Question 2. How much time elapsed between the drone detonations? Answer: About 15-16 minutes.
Question 3: From what direction and on what trajectory did each of the drones fly at their target? Answer: The first from the northeast; the second from the southeast.
Question 4: At what speed? Answer: Slow. Official investigators know precisely the speed and also flight time from launch.
Question 5: Measured by the visual flame, smoke, sound, and debris on the dome and on the ground below, what was the relative explosive power in TNT equivalent for each drone, if any explosive at all? Answer: Next to no explosive payload, possibly none at all.
Question 6: Were security men on the dome roof just before the first drone detonation, between the first and second detonations, or after the second had occurred? Answer: Evidence inconclusive.
Question 7: What photographs of the drone debris on roof and ground have been published? Answer: None.
Question 8: From the debris on the dome roof and on the ground below what was the source of the explosive? Answer: no information after more than 72 hours.
Question 9: What was the type of drone, model, manufacturer, and country of origin? Answer: no information after more than 72 hours.
Question 10: From what has been learned from the debris, the trajectory records, the flight speed, and the control mechanism, what were the launch locations in the Moscow area or outside it, and the distance from launch to the Kremlin? Answer: no official information released yet.
Question 11: The drones in the video records of the attack appear to be relatively short-range. Is there any CCTV or witness surveillance video recording from the surrounding areas from which the drones could have been launched? Answer: No official information. This social media source claims without corroboration that “the drones were spotted in the suburbs”. The source also concedes drone- spotting false alarms are common.
Question 12: Have any specific suspects been identified? No.
Substituting for answers to these questions, western media interpreters have focused on motive. They claim to interpret the drone attack as either a Ukrainian provocation, which will now provide the rationale for a Russian retaliatory strike to decapitate the Ukrainian leadership. Or alternatively, a false flag operation to revive flagging Russian public support for the war, or to escalate Russian targeting west of the Dnieper River.
For more state media coverage of the incident from Sputnik News, click to read and https://sputnikglobe.com/
There is no evidence in the Levada Centre polling reported over the past fortnight of any change of Russian public sentiment, neither in approval of President Vladimir Putin’s performance — above 80% for the past six months — nor in support of the Russian Army’s conduct of the war.
Putin is on record as telling French and Israeli officials for a year now there would be no Russian targeting of President Vladimir Zelensky. This is notwithstanding endorsements of Putin’s assassination by US and Ukrainian officials; and the targeting of Putin in the March 17 indictment by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes by the president.
The reason for the non-retaliatory assurances in Russian policy has been misunderstood. It is the Russian assessment that there can be no motive for Moscow since Zelensky is so plainly a US-directed puppet, his retention in office, replacement, or removal is up to the US to decide – and it suits Russian war policy that it will remain so. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, made the point elliptically in his comment on the motive behind the drone attack. “We know very well that decisions about such actions, about such terrorist attacks, are made not in Kiev but in Washington…This is also often dictated from across the ocean … In Washington they must clearly understand that we know this.”
In the May 3 morning, just hours after the attacks, former president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of the Security Council, issued a different assessment. “After today’s terrorist attack, there are no options left other than the physical elimination of Zelensky and his clique.” For the achievement of Ukrainian capitulation, Medvedev added, Zelensky is “not even needed for signing an instrument of unconditional surrender. Hitler, as is known, did not sign it either. There will always be some substitute.”
The Security Council usually meets Putin every week on Fridays, but it skipped its session on April 28. On May 5, two days after the drone attack, the council meeting was reported in the Kremlin communiqué as discussing “a number of issues related to preparations for Victory Day celebrations”. Absent from this session were Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who was reportedly on an armour inspection tour in Nizhny Novgorod, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was in India.
Igor Strelkov (Igor Girkin), a well-known critic of Russian policy towards Kiev and of operational performance by the General Staff, has published a mocking interpretation of the drone attack hinting at different motives, different perpetrators:
For more on the Tsar Cannon of 1586, read this.
“Ukrainian militants are trying to disrupt negotiations on the extension of the ‘grain deal’. The wrong ones were attacked! It’s barbaric to bomb cultural objects! But we are not like that! Our president works in a bunker! Ha-ha-ha! And the stupid Ukrainians flew to bomb the Kremlin! Ha-ha-ha! The formidable Russian Silence is our response to any provocations! Both unmanned aerial vehicles have been shot down — there is nothing to worry about! And the smoke was from the Tsar Cannon from which they were shot down. The Kremlin’s air defence is in safe hands! Perhaps it was not even Ukrainian nationalists who did it, but their secret accomplices, the ‘turbopatriots’!”
Listen now to the broadcast, first segment:
In the second and third segments, two recent public statements by Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief executive and commander of the Wagner military company, are analysed.
In the first, filmed on the evening of May 3 or 4, Prigozhin attacked Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, with a stream of obscenities, accusing them of depriving the Wagner units of ammunition and causing rising combat deaths; Prigozhin displayed the corpses in his film.
Source, with English subtitles (expletives deleted).
In his second video statement, apparently supplied to the Moscow press on the morning of May 5, Prigozhin announced the withdrawal of the Wagner units from Artemovsk (Bakhmut) on May 10.
Public criticism by Russians of the conduct of the campaign in the Ukraine by military leaders is neither new nor exceptional. Prigozhin, as well as the Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, have gone to the press before in criticism of operational plans, supplies and money – and in hope of drawing more for themselves. However, this is the first display of such vitriol addressed by a senior combat unit commander to Shoigu, Gerasimov, and also the “Supreme Commander in Chief” – Putin.
The open display has provoked in Moscow much more detailed analysis of rates of ammunition use and resupply, casualty rates, and other operational issues than is allowed in Washington or in Kiev. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff, for example, have stopped all press releases, meeting readouts, and other news bulletins since the Pentagon Papers leaked particulars of their negative situation reports on the Ukraine battlefield on April 6.
In a regular military chain of command, Prigozhin’s statements amount to military court insubordination. As a civilian, the wording of Prigozhin’s attacks are a violation of the newly enacted law against “public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in order to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens, maintaining international peace and security, including public calls to prevent the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation for the specified purposes, or to discredit the performance by state bodies of the Russian Federation of their powers outside the territory of the Russian Federation in the specified goals.” Enforcing the earlier, year-old version of this law, prosecutors have sent 4,800 cases to court. On conviction, the legislation provides for heavy fines and imprisonment of up to five years.
That Prigozhin was confident of his immunity from prosecution in launching his tirade indicates official protection. His swearing, gesticulating, and facial contortions indicate staging, not for the Russian audience but for US and Ukrainian commanders and the western media. They are reporting Prigozhin’s statements as evidence of demoralization of Russian army units, logistical failures, insufficient ammunition, and vulnerability to the planned Ukrainian offensive due to start this month. The withdrawal from Artemovsk/Bakhmut by the Wagner forces also appears to be luring fresh Ukrainian reinforcements into the area.
“On May 10, 2023, we are forced,” Prigozhin’s second statement claimed, “to transfer [our Bakhmut] positions to the units of the Ministry of Defense. On March 16, when things didn’t go according to plan, we were asked to help. On March 19 , the units arrived from Africa and immediately entered the battle on the run. We entered at the toughest place, in the centre of the fortified area of Popasnaya, and by May 9, 2022, we had captured the settlement. Then, in order to save the army, which fled shamefully from the Izyum and the Krasny Estuary, they occupied the front line for more than 130 kilometres and restrained the onslaught of the enemy. On October 8, in order to give the army a break, in order to draw all the [Ukrainian] forces on to themselves, the operation ‘Bakhmut meat grinder’was launched. Selfish Russian individuals have claimed success and a good result, and that has caused some figures, pseudo-military bureaucrats from the Ministry of Defense, to be crushed by a goon, speaking in Russian. We received no more than 30% of the needs, so our losses were much higher than they should have been. A month ago, they stopped giving us ammunition and we get no more than 10%. We were going to capture Bakhmut by May 9. But after seeing this, the pseudo-military bureaucrats actually stopped all deliveries from May 1. They sit and shake their fat bellies and think that they will go down in history as the winners. I am officially informing the Chief of the General Staff [Gerasimov], the Minister of Defense [Shoigu], the Supreme Commander-in-Chief [Putin]: my guys will not bear losses in Bakhmut, uselessly and unjustifiably, without ammunition. From May 10, we are leaving Bakhmut. We have still to take 2.5 kilometres out of 45. But if, because of your petty envy, you don’t want to give victory to the Russians, that’s your problem. We are waiting for the order to leave Bakhmut. Until the 9th, despite the fact that we have almost run out of ammunition, we will stay in Bakhmut so that on this sacred holiday we do not shame the brilliance of Russian weapons. Then we will go to the rear camps. We will wait until the people of Russia need us again. I think it’s about to happen. Because you are not able to manage the responsibility placed on you.”
Peskov responded in non-committal fashion: “Of course, we have seen it in the media. But I can’t comment on it because it concerns the course of the special military operation.”
Was Prigozhin running a deception operation aimed at Kiev and Washington? For earlier assessment of the Tar Baby lure in Russian military operations, click to read this from April 2022:
Shortly after Saturday’s TNT radio broadcast went to air, Prigozhin published a third statement. This sets out in professional detail and tone his case for Wagner’s combat requirements in the Bakhmut battle, and at rest camp, following the Wagner withdrawal planned to begin on May 10. Chechen units will replace the Wagner forces at the same time, it has been announced to the press.
Prigozhin’s new statement runs for 41 paragraphs, 1,800 words, without a single expletive. In length and construction it is unlike any verbal or written text Prigozhin has made public before.
Prigozhin repeats the line of criticism he has made before of Defense Ministry planning and army operations, but he acknowledges at the same time the limited operational role the ministry (Shoigu) and General Staff (Gerasimov) have assigned Wagner – with Prigozhin’s agreement. “Operation Bakhmut Meat Grinder [was] an assault on the settlement of Bakhmut in order to provoke Vladimir Zelensky to throw in as many forces as possible to hold Bakhmut. In Bakhmut, we pulverized the Ukrainian armed forces [AFU], hence the name – ‘Bakhmut meat grinder’. The purpose of the operation…was to enable the regular units of the Russian army to occupy advantageous defence lines, to mobilize, retrofit, train personnel and increase their combat potential. The term of the operation, decided with Army General S[ergei] Surovikin, was agreed for a period of 6 months (conditionally until April 8, 2023).”
The assignment for Wagner was thus already coming to its operational close last month; the date of withdrawal Prigozhin had earlier agreed to with Shoigu and Gerasimov meant the cutoff of fresh ammunition deliveries which Prigozhin admits took effect on May 1.
“The settlement of Bakhmut has no strategic significance for further progress to the west,” Prigozhin went on. “Of strategic importance for the advance of the Russian army is the capture of the settlements of Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, Druzhkovka, Konstantinovka – the ‘Donbass Ring’, to the west of which flat territories open up, in which it is difficult for the AFU to maintain defence in the event of an offensive by superior forces of the Russian army…It should be noted that the Operation Bakhmut Meat Grinder was designed principally, not to capture the settlement of Bakhmut, but to grind up the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and organize a respite for the Russian army to restore combat capability. The Bakhmut Meat Grinder has fully fulfilled its task.”
Is this Prigozhin’s admission that his role in the Battle of Bakhmut had served the tar-baby strategem? If so, the reduction in ammunition supplies – what he calls “shell hunger” – was part of the operational plan he had agreed in advance, more than six months ago. And if that’s so, then the vituperation of Prigozhin’s first and second statements was more of the same tar-baby ploy; that is, deception for the enemy.
The combat operations calculus presented in the new Prigozhin paper is theoretical without revealing Russian operational intelligence of the Ukrainian combat capabilities inside the Bakhmut battlefield; nor the air, artillery and other infantry support provided on the flanks of the Wagner units by the regular army forces. Prigozhin has also left out of his published calculation the attrition on the Ukrainian side. How that severely reduced troop force, running out of ammunition and fresh arms, could inflict the increased casualty rate among the Wagner forces Prigozhin doesn’t explain.
Read the full text here.
Edward Slavsquat gives the Duran a ribbing.
But who, exactly, is Edward Slavsquat other than a fairly minor, (albeit Moscow-based) blogger?
Maybe Prigozhin is just really stressed out?
Russian pundits say Prigozhin is stating the obvious, while Western “alt media” insists he’s just stressed and needs a rest. There’s a lesson here, somewhere.
Yevgeny Prigozhin has accused Russia’s top military brass of brazen incompetence and outright treachery. He claims a sustained campaign of political intrigue has led to shell hunger at the front, resulting in unsustainable casualties. Deprived of ammunition, Wagner will be forced to withdraw from Bakhmut on May 10, according to Prigozhin.
What to make of all this? It is very distressing.
Fret not. The Duran has convened an emergency group therapy session:
- “There’s a lot of theories…I’ve got my own theory, and I’ll just say that I think Prigozhin needs to take a little bit of time off. That’s my own thinking on this.”
- “I think the man is under extreme stress, and has been for a very very long time…He’s clearly at the end of this tether.”
- “He is exhausted, he is completely stressed…I think he’s losing track of what he’s doing.”
- “He’s clearly lost control of what he’s saying, of what he’s doing, and he needs a rest.”
- “He’s a civilian in Bakhmut, in a warzone, and it’s probably a place where a civilian, even a billionaire founder of Wagner, should probably not spend too much time in. Because after a while it obviously is going to affect you.”
For thirty minutes, The Duran pontificates about Prigozhin’s psychological state, without directly addressing a single grievance made by him.
Nothing is said about the well-documented shell hunger; nothing is said about anything, really. (At around the 2:30 mark, Alexander Mercouris rushes through a few carefully selected bullet points that he very obviously poached from Rolo’s write-up of Prigozhin’s interview with Semyon Pegov—without crediting Rolo.)
Prigozhin is simply at the end of his tether and needs a nice little rest. Case closed.
Then, in the last seconds of the video, Mercouris blurts out: “I’m not discounting everything that [Prigozhin] said, but I do think it is time for him to go.”
Well, what did he say? And these things he said—which are not discussed in any meaningful way after 30 minutes of evasions, but also shouldn’t be discounted!—are they accurate? Where’s the context? Where’s the “analysis”?
Since we can’t get a straight answer from The Duran, let’s ask Russian media.
We’ll begin with Svobodnaya Pressa (Free Press), a patriotic, pro-SMO Russian outlet with socialist/Communist leanings.
“Everything that has been said [Prigozhin’s quarrels with the MoD], alas, has not been news to anyone for a long time,” writes Sergey Ischenko. Then Ischenko does something really unexpected: He provides a detailed transcript of all the things that Prigozhin said!
After combing through Prigozhin’s dire warnings and allegations, the author concludes:
The first thing that comes to mind after reading this interview with the head of Wagner is: “This simply cannot be! Surely Prigozhin is exaggerating!”
Okay, so be it. But in any case, the authorities are simply obliged to instantly and publicly respond to this simply devastating text for the Russian generals, and personally for Shoigu and Gerasimov.
Suppose Prigozhin completely lost it and began to viciously slander the army leadership, accusing them of the most serious malfeasance. [Shouldn’t he then be charged with discrediting the Russian Armed Forces?] […]
But if Prigozhin is not brought to justice (and for some reason it seems that he won’t be!)—what can we, mere mortals, think? That the leader of the Wagnerites is right? That the fate of Russia is already literally hanging in the balance?
To summarize: Prigozhin’s problems with the Shoigu and Gerasimov are common knowledge, and if he isn’t sent to a labor camp for discrediting the Russian military, maybe things really aren’t going according to plan?
Free Press followed up with an article about the rampant corruption in Russia’s defense industry, which, according to the author, has left Russian soldiers underequipped.
Let’s turn to Voyennoye Obozreniye (Military Review), Russia’s most popular military news portal. The website is edited by pro-military turbo-patriots who uniformly believe Ukraine shouldn’t exist.
So, Military Review, tell us: Is Prigozhin out of his element?
I listened calmly and attentively to an hour and a half conversation between Pegov and Prigozhin and his comrades. Twice. If we discard emotions and obscene language, then we agree with 90% of of what [Prigozhin] said.
Let’s start from the end, because at the end of his speech, Prigozhin formulated what he and his comrades-in-arms had been talking about for an hour and a half. And, I must say, theses are not the most pleasant topics to touch upon.
1. The army must fight with shells.
2. The army must fight with normal control.
3. All military bureaucrats from the RF Ministry of Defense must go to the front line in order to understand the realities of the situation.
4. Stop lying to yourself and everyone else, reduce the amount of propaganda, evaluate the enemy normally and understand that there will be a counteroffensive. And it can become a tragedy for Russia. […]
The fact that show-offs and liars are sitting at the top of our military has been clear for a long time. The Ukrainian military, which according to reports from our Ministry of Defense has been repeatedly destroyed, continues to rise from the ashes like a phoenix and resist. […]
Management really begins from the trenches and ends in the offices of the Moscow Region. And vice versa. And both lines are required to work like clockwork. But alas, what happened to the Russian army over the past 30 years shows that everything is completely different from what [the Russian MoD] says. […]
I would like Prigozhin’s harsh criticism to have at least a minimal impact on the bureaucratic swamp of Russian reality. […]
Prigozhin said many interesting things that coincide with our point of view. Of course, in some ways he goes too far—Russia will not die without shells, but it will simply lose pieces of the Kherson, Zaporozhye, Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
But damn it, GIVE WAGNER SHELLS!!!
So what you’re saying is…it’s not stress-related?
Now a few words from veteran milblogger DonRF:
There are only two options – Mr. Prigozhin, saying bad things about people with surnames similar to the names of the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff, and about their children, is right. Or he is wrong. That’s all.
If he is right, if these are the sincere words of an elderly man who buries his employees every day, then the Supreme Commander needs to urgently take action. […]
If he is wrong, then he must be arrested today and brought to trial by a military tribunal. As you can see, everything is simple.
But I actually wanted to talk about something else, in addition to the guys from the PMC Wagner, who are heroes, without conditions, there are other guys—guys in the Russian army. [A report from the front:] “Heavy battles have intensified in the Ugledar direction. Commanders from the field report that the situation is difficult, but under control. There was no breakthrough. And yes, more shells would not hurt.”
This hints at some kind of SYSTEMIC problem with [shell hunger].
DonRF is being rather cheeky, because he knows shell hunger is a systemic problem, and has written about it repeatedly over the last twelve months.
A few closing thoughts.
Why is Western “alt media” coverage of this war irreconcilable with the commentary coming out of Russia?
The Russians who write for Military Review (and the dozens of other websites and Telegram channels that have been issuing warning after warning about this increasingly bizarre and tragic conflict) have a lot more to lose than Western pundits if things go belly-up. Surely this should give us pause?
I just don’t understand why there’s almost zero overlap between what Western “alt media” says, and what Russian “alt media” says. They are two separate worlds.
The rift between these two media spaces is so massive that it’s almost as if they’re talking about two different wars. And they are. The problem is, only one of these wars actually exists. Which one?
I don’t want to single out The Duran (the problem is ubiquitous), and forgive my mild teasing.
All I ask for is a level playing field, where we can all work together, in good-faith and good cheer, to answer the elusive question: What the heck is going on in Ukraine?
Part of this process has to include perspectives from patriotic Russians who aren’t on the Kremlin’s payroll. Sorry, those are the rules.
I have no idea what will happen next. Maybe Prigozhin’s outbursts really were a 5D psyop, and he’ll take Bakhmut tomorrow. Who knows?
I do know one thing, though: Ignoring views from the people who have the most to lose is highly ill-advised.
Your correspondent made this observation more than a year ago, in April 2022:
Two distinct camps have emerged among supporters of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Broadly speaking, “pro-Russia” English-language punditry continues to be as chirpy as it was in the early hours of February 24: everything is going according to plan, Putin is purging the fifth columnists, victory is imminent, et cetera.
A very similar narrative was prevalent (probably near-unanimous) among pro-military, “patriotic” commentators in Russia during the first month of the conflict.
However, by early April, Russian-language perspectives on the “special operation” began to come to terms with the reality that there would be no swift, decisive resolution. In Russia, fervent supporters of the conflict recognize their country is ill-prepared to fight a protracted war against the collective West. Some are now calling for Russia to transition into a wartime footing. “Everything for the front.”
Russian commentators are now warning mobilization is necessary in order to avoid a scenario in which a heavily militarized and forever-hostile “Anti-Russia” remains at Russia’s border—what Putin purportedly set out to prevent.
Yes, that was from April 2022, when there was unanimous agreement among Western “alt media” that the Ukrainian military was on the verge of collapse, and the mere suggestion that Russia should mobilize was considered preposterous and extremely haram.
Maybe it’s time to recalibrate? Better late than never.