April 15, 2023
Reporting from some Western sources that Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin called for Russia to end its war against Ukraine is inaccurate. Some Western reports covering Prigozhin’s April 14 essay on a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive and the future of the war miscontextualized a rhetorical statement in which Prigozhin established a strawman argument he attributed to Russia’s “internal enemies” who seek to rationalize Russia ending the war in Ukraine now. The point of his essay was to attack this strawman, not to advance it. Prigozhin actually called on Russia to commit to a decisive fight that will either defeat Ukraine or result in a temporary Russian defeat that will catalyze Russia’s nationalist rebirth and set conditions for future victory. A full reading of Prigozhin‘s essay, titled, “Only an Honest Fight: No Negotiations,” does not lend itself to any reasonable interpretation that Prigozhin advocated for an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Reading Prigozhin‘s public communications is not a straightforward undertaking. Much of the nuance included in Prigozhin’s speech is lost when translating Russian to English. Prigozhin has an idiosyncratic rhetorical and writing style that relies heavily on deadpan sarcasm, selective ambiguity, aphorisms, vulgarity, and ironic slang. Prigozhin’s isolated quotes separated from the full context of his messages often lose their initial meaning.
Certain Russian players in the information space have also misinterpreted Prigozhin’s essay, further exposing fissures between some Russian milbloggers. Pro-Kremlin news aggregator Readovka noted on April 15 that some unspecified Russian-language Telegram channels – like some Western media – simply repeated Prigozhin’s strawman argument about the seduction of settling for negotiations without “reading any further” into Prigozhin’s call for a protracted struggle. Readovka endorsed Prigozhin’s actual argument that the “uncomfortable truth” is that Russia must continue to fight, concurring that negotiations to end the war would “do more harm than good.” Former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin – an enemy of Prigozhin – leaned into the misinterpretation of Prigozhin’s essay (possibly on purpose) as part of their ongoing blogging feud. Girkin sarcastically asked, “Do I understand correctly that the Black Clown [Prigozhin] called for the Russian Federation to reject half of the Donetsk People’s Republic and a third of Zaporizhia Oblast…?” Girkin also implied that that Russian prosecutors should investigate Prigozhin for his essay, likely for discrediting the Russian “special military operation,” given that the strawman argument advocates that Russia should simply retain only territory it currently occupies in Ukraine. Prigozhin’s essay may continue to fuel debate along existing cleavages in the Russian information space where Prigozhin’s supporters and competitors may use selective readings of the essay to either praise or malign Prigozhin while advancing their own arguments.
The Russian information space is reckoning with demographic transitions within Russia in a way that indicates that the nationalist ideologies underpinning the war in Ukraine will continue to have reverberating domestic impacts. Russian outlet RBC reported on April 13 that a study published by the Russian New Economic Association found that an increase in the number of migrants from 390,000 to 1.1 million annually would help stabilize Russia’s population, which is in decline due to domestic levels of fertility and life expectancy as well as population outflow. Moscow Duma Deputy Andrey Medvedev responded to the study and accused “lobbyists” of advocating for uncontrolled migration from Central Asia, which Medvedev claimed will bring more violence and extremism to Russia at great social and economic cost. Medvedev called instead for a new law on the repatriation of ethnic Russians from all over the world in order to stabilize demographic shifts and save them from “Russophobia” abroad. Russian State Duma Deputy for Defense Dmitry Kuznetsov relatedly reported on April 15 that Voronezh Oblast may begin a pilot program on the social integration of refugees and noted that this program is intended for pro-Russian refugees who left Ukraine for Russia. Kuznetsov’s proposed bill underlines the same brand of staunch nationalism that Medvedev is advocating for and seeks to uphold and codify a sense of exceptionalism for ethnic Russians in Russian at the expense of all ethnic minority populations. The war in Ukraine has had, and will continue to have, substantial population and demographic impacts within Russia. These impacts will leave the door open for the continued weaponization of intensely nationalist rhetoric as the war continues to empower the most staunchly xenophobic (and vocal) factions of Russian society.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party intends to recruit Russian military personnel who have served in Ukraine as candidates for elections in 2023 and 2024, likely in an effort to establish itself as the definitive pro-war party in Russia. United Russia Central Executive Committee Head Alexander Sidyakin announced on April 14 that the Young Guard of United Russia (United Russia’s youth wing) launched an educational module about participating in primaries for Russian military personnel and volunteers who have fought in Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. Sidyakin reportedly stated that Russian military personnel and volunteers will be on United Russia candidate lists for upcoming regional elections in September 2023. The United Russia party is currently nominating candidates for primaries until April 27, and primaries will run from May 22 to 28. Young Guard of United Russia Chairman Anton Demidov reportedly stated on April 14 that Russian military personnel and volunteers will become the main speakers of the party during Russia’s 2024 presidential election.
The recruitment of military personnel as political candidates during a time of war is typical for a society that holds elections, regardless of the fairness or significance of those elections. The Kremlin likely intends to recruit military personnel as candidates to a greater extent than is usual even for a war time country, however. The Kremlin likely aims to use candidates who have served in Ukraine as the public face of the United Russia party in upcoming elections to court the support of military constituents and their family members and to establish United Russia as the definitive political party for the pro-war movement. The potential “militarization” of the United Russia party likely does not presage a Kremlin effort to escalate the war in Ukraine. The Kremlin is likely aiming to co-opt military personnel to support its ongoing effort to curry favor with the pro-war Russian ultranationalist community without fulfilling the community’s extreme demands.
- Reporting from some Western sources that Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin called for Russia to end its war against Ukraine is inaccurate.
- Certain Russian players in the information space have also misinterpreted Prigozhin’s essay, further exposing fissures between some Russian milbloggers.
- The Russian information space is reckoning with demographic transitions within Russia in a way that indicates that the nationalist ideologies underpinning the war in Ukraine will continue to have reverberating domestic impacts.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party announced its intention to recruit Russian military personnel who have served in Ukraine as candidates for elections in 2023 and 2024, likely in an effort to establish itself as the definitive pro-war party in Russia.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks near Kreminna and may be preparing to defend territory in the Kupyansk direction.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations in and around Bakhmut and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front.
- Russian forces continued defensive operations in southern Ukraine.
- A Russian opposition news source reported that Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) head Leonid Pasechnik signed a decree on April 14 authorizing spring and fall conscription in occupied Luhansk Oblast.
- The Russian State Security Service (FSB) is likely involved in efforts to target Ukrainian youth in occupied territories for law enforcement and counter-partisan purposes.