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Prigozhin's Death and Lukashenko's Future

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Photo: Prigozhin's death and Lukashenko's future. Source: Collage the Gaze.
Photo: Prigozhin's death and Lukashenko's future. Source: Collage the Gaze.

Prigozhin's sudden death gave rise to the question: "Was the plane crash the result of an attempt by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin or his entourage not only to take revenge on the leader of the Wagner terrorist organization for the attempted rebellion, but also to eliminate a potentially dangerous witness or even a political rival?" 

Prigozhin, as the leader of the Wagner terrorist organization, which was involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity not only in Ukraine but also in many other countries, was in fact almost the only commander who, during the entire period of the war in Ukraine, gained popularity among the Russian military and the Russian public, and therefore could well be seen as an opponent and competitor for Putin in the upcoming presidential elections in the Russian Federation. 

This circumstance, especially in conjunction with the arrest of Igor Strelkov (Girkin) - (a terrorist convicted of shooting down flight MH17), who was also popular in certain circles of Russian society, actually gives grounds to assume that the internal political struggle in Russia is escalating, which, in the absence of effective mechanisms for the legal transit of power, will inevitably take on the character of a violent confrontation.

The main vectors of confrontation

First, it is the struggle of disgruntled elite representatives against Putin and his regime. But here it should be borne in mind that the "dissatisfied with the Putin regime" are themselves a privileged part of this regime, so it is crucial for them to remove Putin (or "Putin's" - no one seems to know how many different "doubles" this hydra has), but not to damage their privileged status. And even more so, not to fall out of favor with Putin before his regime falls, as this would mean actually becoming a victim of Putin's repressive machine.

Secondly, there is the internal struggle within the current Russian elite among themselves for who, under favorable circumstances, will be able to take over Putin's "throne" in the future after the latter's removal for natural or unnatural reasons. It is clear that internal competition within the Russian elite makes it impossible to consolidate it, which is necessary for the overthrow of the Putin regime and to some extent even plays into Putin's hands.

Thirdly, it is the strengthening of national liberation movements in certain republics and regions of the Russian Federation, as we saw in Dagestan, and these are only the first signs that centrifugal tendencies will increase as the federal center weakens. And since there are local - national - elites who, with the support of the population, can, if not gain sovereignty, at least strengthen their autonomy, as in Chechnya, there is no shortage of those willing to help weaken the central government in the Russian regions.

Fourth, the growing discontent of the general population due to deteriorating socioeconomic conditions should not be discounted. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the dissatisfaction among the military, which, to put it mildly, does not have much respect for various "rear rats" such as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov, and others, which Prigozhin skillfully exploited in his time.

Be that as it may, it is quite natural for the Russian elite (in this case, rather, even the elites that will increasingly stand out from the integral elite formed around Putin) to grow mutual distrust and suspicion. 

Dictatorial "friendship"

In this context, it is very interesting to see how the relationship between Putin and the self-proclaimed President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, will develop in the future.

On the one hand, Lukashenko is strongly linked to Putin through his complicity in the war against Ukraine, and thus, like Prigozhin, he could potentially be a dangerous witness for Putin. At the same time, Lukashenko, even though he is heavily dependent on the Putin regime's support, still resists in every way possible to send the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus directly to participate in hostilities in Ukraine. And it is clear that these two aspects play in favor of the fact that he can be removed from power by the Russians in one way or another, including through physical elimination. 

However, this scenario is unlikely to materialize, as there are no guarantees that Putin has an alternative candidate who could take over power in Belarus if necessary. And most importantly, it is far from certain that Lukashenko's successor, even if he is a protege of the Putin regime, will be able to satisfy Russia's desire to send the Belarusian military to fight in Ukraine. Moreover, such a scenario does not exclude the destabilization of Belarus with its subsequent withdrawal from the orbit of Russian influence. Similar processes have already been and are being observed in Kazakhstan and Armenia.

Given this, Putin will most likely try to preserve Lukashenko's regime in Belarus, while continuing to try to involve the Belarusian army in hostilities in Ukraine.

However, it is far from certain that Lukashenko's level of legitimacy will allow him to break the resistance of the Belarusian generals, who, for obvious reasons, are not eager to go to slaughter in Ukraine because of Putin's whims. It is this factor that fundamentally distinguishes Lukashenko's situation from that of Prigozhin.

From this perspective, the likelihood of Lukashenko's removal from power is much higher as a result of a conflict with his own military and security forces than because of real or potential conflicts with Putin. However, the fall of Lukashenko's regime in Belarus is as inevitable as the collapse of Putin's regime in Russia.


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