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By John Helmer, Moscow

On Friday, June 30, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked if, after the armed mutiny of the week before, he can give guarantees that Russia is stable and will not sink into turmoil?

“We are not obliged to explain anything or make assurances,” Lavrov replied. “We are acting in a transparent manner…Russia has always emerged stronger from its troubles (and this is hardly more than a trouble). The same will happen this time. And, we already feel that this process is underway.”  

In Russian history the mention of a time of troubles — or as Lavrov put it, a trouble this time —  is a reference to the civil war between 1598 and 1613, when the Rurik dynasty of tsars was replaced by the Romanov dynasty. It was a time of Polish, Swedish and other foreign intervention aimed at installing a tsar pretender, a Russian ruling in the foreign interest.  Lavrov minimized his own reference as nothing of the sort.

At the same time former president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy secretary of the Security Council, broke his week-long silence following the mutiny. As that was collapsing on June 24, Medvedev had said: “Now the most important thing for the victory over the external and internal enemy, hungry to tear apart our Homeland, for the salvation of our state is to rally around the President, the Supreme Commander of the armed forces of the country. Schism and betrayal are the path to the greatest tragedy, a universal catastrophe. We will not allow it. The enemy will be defeated! Victory will be ours!”  

On June 30, Medvedev reappeared to say that Russia has been watching the collapse of US rule under “a shuffling old man with acute dementia or a young, overgrown playboy with the habits of a provincial dictator”; followed by the “pandemonium and riots on the streets of France”. Medvedev then quoted the 19th century writer Nikolai Gogol to say “‘there is only one decent person there: the prosecutor; and even that, to tell the truth, is a pig.’ However, if you recall another quote by Nikolai Vasilievich, it becomes quite sad: ‘I don’t see anything. I see some pig snouts instead of faces, but nothing else.’”

Where exactly was Medvedev’s reference to there? Whose were the pig snouts Medvedev was referring to — those of the outside enemies aiming to “tear apart our Homeland”, or the internal enemies, the leaders of the armed rebellion Yevgeny Prigozhin (lead image left) and the Wagner group founder and operations commander Dmitry Utkin (right), and their supporters?

Russian public opinion has been clear, and it has been intensifying over the years of President Vladimir Putin’s term until now, that the snouts they distrust most are those of the oligarchs. Prigozhin, Putin himself announced on June 27, was one of them as he ordered an investigation of the state funding of Prigozhin and the Wagner group. “I hope no one stole anything in the process or, at least, did not steal a lot. It goes without saying that we will look into all of this.”   

Why then did Putin spend the next day, on his first visit outside Moscow since the armed  rebellion, with the oligarch of Dagestan, Suleiman Kerimov? According to the Kremlin record, Kerimov participated with Putin in a discussion of tourism,  and then in a tour of the sights of Derbent, including the Juma mosque.  A report of the  closeness of Putin and Kerimov during the day appeared with open sarcasm in the Moscow business daily, Kommersant.  

Listen to this week’s TNT Radio’s broadcast, “War of the Worlds”,  as the Russian files are opened of the multi-billion dollar business Prigozhin created out of the state defence budget and Utkin turned into a private army with his own ideological bent.

Source: https://tntradiolive.podbean.com/

Here is the documentary evidence identified in the broadcast:

Russian public opinion on the oligarchs and other groups influencing President Putin has been measured regularly by the Levada Centre in Moscow; the first poll was reported in September 2000 and the most recent one in August 2021.   

Source: https://www.levada.ru/

For reporting on Suleiman Kerimov, the archive of 119 stories can be opened and read here.  

Following the president’s opening of the dossier on Prigozhin’s financing, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made an attempt to change the direction of the investigation under way.  “Putin has spoken about the quite significant sums that were allocated through the Ministry of Defense. He called out these figures, but the company was also engaged in its own business, which has nothing to do with the state.”   

The evidence gathered by Russian reporters and published over several years indicates that Prigozhin has been a state contractor to the Ministry of Defence since 2012 supplying food catering, coal, gasoline and diesel fuel, bath, laundry and barracks cleaning services. The catering contract started in 2012 at $1.6 billion per annum rouble equivalent,  of which Prigozhin is estimated to have been taking at least $160 million, possibly more. The fuel and other services contracts were worth almost $500 million per annum in 2016 and ran for several years. At the same time he was delivering water and sewerage system maintenance contracts to at least one of the military districts from 2015.

At the same time Prigozhin’s contracts with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU for internet engineering, trolling and cyber warfare were running from before the US presidential election of 2016; no rouble figure estimate for what these contracts were worth has been reported. In parallel, it is known that Prigozhin diversified into commercial media, hacking, advertising, public relations, publishing, and black influence operations for hire. For a summary, published in March of this year, click to read.  

In all, Prigozhin was running more 400 companies and needed a big IT staff to handle them all. The cashflow — before the Special Military Operation began in February 2022 — was in the billions of dollars equivalent; Prigozhin’s take can be calculated to have been between $100 million and $200 million dollar equivalent per year over more than a decade – at least $1 billion.

He then used part of this cash, and part by borrowing against the state contract cashflow to buy St Petersburg real estate of all kinds. For the time being, no report has been found of the extent of Prigozhin’s borrowings, his net cash position before the mutiny, and the role of the state banks in the unravelling and reallocation of Prigozhin’s assets which is now under way. There is no evidence to date of Prigozhin’s use of offshore banks and companies to transfer his Russian business proceeds.

Source: https://dossier-center.appspot.com

The history of the Wagner group’s formation as a private military contractor (PMC), and the role of Lieutenant-Colonel Dmitry Utkin in founding it has been told here  and here  and here.  It began when Utkin left his regular special forces post with the GRU, and joined the Moran Security Group of Moscow. Follow the Moran Group’s involvement in the Myre Seadiver affair which unfolded in Lagos, Nigeria, between October 2012 and October 2013.  

The investigation of Utkin’s role in directing the mutiny and commanding the columns into Rostov and then  headed towards Moscow starts here.  Utkin’s role as the officer in charge when Russian army helicopter and surveillance aircraft were shot down by the Wagner forces has not yet surfaced in the Russian military media.

Kremlin presentation of Hero of Russia medals for military valour, Kremlin, December 9, 2016 – behind the President, from left to right, Andrei Bogatov, Andrei Troshev, Alexander Kuznetsov, and Dmitry Utkin. Source: https://novayagazeta.ru/

An account of the tattoo and signature evidence for Utkin’s neo-Nazi sentiments, and Prigozhin’s reported acknowledgment and also defence of Utkin’s SS tattoos, can be read here.  The source claims that Utkin’s body is covered in tattoos; there is no report of what the tattoos as yet unrevealed show.

The break-up of the Wagner Group’s units following the mutiny is being followed by the Russian military bloggers Colonel Cassad (Boris Rozhin) and Rybar (Mikhail Zvinchuk). The latest report of June 30 indicates   that a new field camp has been created in Belarus for those Wagner soldiers who have signed Defense Ministry contracts. The camp is located near the village of Tsel, in the  Osipovichesky district of Belarus.  This is also the base location of a Belarusian regular army unit, the 465th Tactical Ballistic Missile Brigade where Russian Iskander missiles are also located with combined Belarusian and Russian security.

Source:  https://t.me/s/boris_rozhin

The photographs appear to show the Wagner unit is being accommodated in about 300 tents. The number of men now in this camp can be estimated at no more than 1,200.

A survey of six Russian military analysts in Moscow on what they understand about Utkin’s reputation at the Defense Ministry and General Staff resulted in unanimous refusal to respond.

NOTE: The illustration in the lead, centre, is the picture by Sergei Ivanov, “In the Time of Troubles”, painted in 1886.

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