Deterioration of Russian Legal System Highlighted by Armed Rebellion Led by Wagner Chief Prigozhin

by Michael Nguyen
erosion of Russian legal system

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the rebellious leader of the mercenary group Wagner, has been released from prosecution following his armed mutiny on June 24. The lack of clarity regarding potential charges for the aborted uprising against military leaders and the deaths of the soldiers involved raises concerns about accountability.

Instead of focusing on potential criminal charges, there is an ongoing campaign to portray Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group military contractor, as motivated by greed. There are only subtle indications of an investigation into whether he mismanaged the billions of dollars in state funds.

Until recently, the Kremlin had never admitted to funding the company, as private mercenary groups are technically illegal in Russia. However, President Vladimir Putin disclosed that the state had paid Wagner almost $1 billion in just one year, while Prigozhin’s other company earned a similar amount from government contracts. Putin openly questioned whether any of these funds were stolen.

The developments surrounding Prigozhin, who remains unpunished despite Putin labeling his revolt as treason, highlight what St. Petersburg municipal council member Nikita Yuferev referred to as the “gradual erosion of the legal system” in Russia. Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, wrote in a column that “the fabric of the state is disintegrating” in response to the mutiny.

Following Putin’s indication that the government would investigate financial irregularities involving Prigozhin’s companies, state TV picked up on the cue. Commentator Dmitry Kiselyov revealed that Wagner and another company owned by Prigozhin earned over 1.7 trillion rubles ($18.7 billion) through government contracts. These earnings reportedly occurred between 2014 and 2023, years when both Prigozhin and Russian officials denied any ties to Wagner or even its existence.

The motive for Prigozhin’s mutiny, according to Kiselyov, may have been the Defense Ministry’s refusal to extend a multibillion-dollar contract with his legal catering company, Concord, for supplying food to the army.

Furthermore, it remains unclear whether Prigozhin will relocate to Belarus, Russia’s closest ally, under a deal with the Kremlin to end the rebellion. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stated that Prigozhin was in Russia, but the Kremlin declined to comment.

Russian media, including the popular state TV channel Russia 1, aired videos of searches conducted in Prigozhin’s St. Petersburg offices and an opulent mansion allegedly owned by him. The footage showcased a van with boxes of cash, as well as gold bars, wigs, and weapons found on the estate.

Russia 1 programs also alleged that Prigozhin’s adult children accumulated significant wealth through him, portraying a contrasting image of his lifestyle compared to his anti-elite persona. The intention behind these revelations is to “smear the person and show he is an oligarch,” according to Ilya Shumanov, Russia director for Transparency International.

The issue of how the government managed to fund Wagner, given that mercenary activities, including funding and training private troops, are prohibited by law, remains unanswered. Until the rebellion, Putin consistently denied any connection between the state and Prigozhin’s mercenaries. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked about the legality of state funding for Wagner, refused to comment.

Shumanov suggested that Wagner was likely funded through cash via shell companies or government contracts involving Prigozhin’s other entities. The exact amount remains unknown, but Putin’s remarks seemingly provided a green light to investigate Prigozhin’s finances.

The Kremlin’s narrative portrays Prigozhin as a thief and a corrupt oligarch who exceeded his limits by embezzling state funds. The goal is to direct blame solely towards Prigozhin, without sacrificing anyone else.

Apart from the financial aspects, there is also the matter of whether anyone will be held accountable for the deaths of the Russian soldiers who were killed by Prigozhin’s fighters during the rebellion. Reports from Russian media suggest that around 15 military troops lost their lives as Prigozhin’s soldiers seized a military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and headed towards Moscow, shooting down military helicopters and other aircraft.

As part of the agreement to end the rebellion, charges against Prigozhin and his fighters for mounting a rebellion were dropped by the Federal Security Service (FSB). This agreement contradicted Putin’s earlier vow to punish those responsible, leading to dissatisfaction among some individuals.

Nikita Yuferev, the St. Petersburg municipal council member, filed a request with the Prosecutor General’s Office and the FSB to inquire about who would be held accountable for the rebellion. He emphasized the discrepancy between the armed rebellion and the lack of consequences, and expressed concerns about the erosion of Russia’s legal system.

It remains unclear whether additional charges will be filed. Lawyer Ivan Pavlov suggested that Prigozhin may face other charges, especially considering the deaths, but currently, no discussions have taken place regarding this possibility.

Another aspect shrouded in silence is how the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, failed to prevent the uprising despite frequently boasting about averting terrorist attacks and major crimes. Russian security experts Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan noted that the FSB’s Rostov department barricaded itself in its city headquarters during the rebellion, while its military counterintelligence operatives assigned to Wagner remained inactive.

The mutiny challenged previous assumptions about the loyalty of Putin’s security forces. Mark Galeotti, an analyst on Russian security affairs from University College London, observed that during a real challenge, security forces hesitated and waited instead of taking action.

Thus far, there have been no negative consequences for the FSB, which Galeotti described as “Putin’s favored institution.” When questioned about the FSB’s failure to suppress the mutiny, Kremlin spokesman Peskov declined to comment, except to mention that the services fulfill their functions appropriately. He also noted that Putin had expressed gratitude to soldiers, law enforcement, and security officers in his recent remarks.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about erosion of Russian legal system

Q: What was the outcome of the armed rebellion led by Wagner chief Prigozhin?

A: Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary group Wagner, walked free from prosecution for the armed mutiny. It remains unclear if anyone will face charges for the uprising or the deaths of the soldiers involved.

Q: What is the focus of the campaign against Prigozhin?

A: The campaign aims to portray Prigozhin as driven by greed and to investigate whether he mishandled state funds amounting to billions of dollars.

Q: Has the Russian government admitted to funding the Wagner Group?

A: Prior to recent revelations, the Kremlin had never admitted to funding the company. However, President Vladimir Putin disclosed that the state paid Wagner almost $1 billion in just one year.

Q: What does the rebellion and Prigozhin’s actions indicate about the Russian legal system?

A: The rebellion and the lack of consequences for Prigozhin highlight the gradual erosion of the legal system in Russia, as stated by St. Petersburg municipal council member Nikita Yuferev.

Q: How did Prigozhin’s financial activities come under scrutiny?

A: Following Putin’s indication that financial irregularities by Prigozhin’s companies would be probed, state TV programs revealed substantial earnings through government contracts. These revelations prompted investigations into Prigozhin’s finances.

Q: Will anyone be held accountable for the deaths of Russian soldiers during the rebellion?

A: It remains unclear if anyone will face prosecution for the deaths. Charges against Prigozhin and his fighters for mounting a rebellion were dropped in an agreement with the Federal Security Service (FSB) to end the mutiny.

Q: How did the FSB, the Russian security agency, respond to the rebellion?

A: The FSB’s actions during the rebellion raised questions, as they barricaded themselves in their city headquarters, while their military counterintelligence operatives assigned to Wagner did not take action.

Q: What impact does this rebellion have on the perception of Putin’s security forces?

A: The rebellion revealed that Putin’s security forces hesitated and refrained from taking action during a significant challenge, challenging previous assumptions about their loyalty and effectiveness.

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Sam99 July 10, 2023 - 2:56 pm

So, nobody responsible for dead soldiers? Legal system eroding, corruption thriving. Sad reality.

Lily23 July 10, 2023 - 3:15 pm

Putin finally admit funding Wagner, but where’s accountability? Legal system falling apart.

Sarah82 July 10, 2023 - 10:22 pm

How did FSB fail to stop mutiny? Wagner’s soldiers kill troops, but no punishment? System failing!

Alex34 July 10, 2023 - 10:39 pm

Prigozhin gets away, state TV shows his fancy mansion. How did he earn billions? Corruption all around!

Jessica12 July 11, 2023 - 5:16 am

Prigozhin’s wealth, his children’s riches, all from state funds? Corruption at its finest! Need justice!

John87 July 11, 2023 - 8:13 am

rebellion is bad news. why Prigozhin walk free? who gonna pay for dead soldiers?

DavidSmith July 11, 2023 - 8:20 am

The campaign tries to make Prigozhin look greedy. Billions in state funds mishandled? Investigation needed!

Emily19 July 11, 2023 - 9:10 am

Putin’s security forces hesitating? Something’s not right. Rebellion exposes their weaknesses.


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