Mercenary Leader Evades Prosecution While Kremlin’s Critics Face Severe Consequences

by Andrew Wright
Selective enforcement

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of a group of mercenaries, orchestrated an armed rebellion against the Russian military and managed to evade prosecution. However, individuals who dared to voice their criticism of the Kremlin were not as fortunate.

The Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s main domestic security agency, announced on Tuesday that they had dropped the criminal investigation into last week’s revolt, absolving Prigozhin and other participants of any charges, despite the loss of approximately a dozen Russian soldiers in the clashes.

The Kremlin had made a promise not to prosecute Prigozhin after striking a deal with him, in which he agreed to cease the uprising and retreat to neighboring Belarus. This decision was made despite President Vladimir Putin’s vow to punish those responsible for the rebellion.

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When questioned about this sudden change in course during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment.

The fact that Prigozhin managed to escape prosecution, at least for the time being, stands in stark contrast to the way the Kremlin deals with anti-government protests, such as those expressing opposition to the war in Ukraine or challenging Putin’s leadership.

When asked about the discrepancy, Peskov mentioned Putin’s desire to prevent events from spiraling into the worst-case scenario, along with the promises and guarantees made to Prigozhin.


Prominent lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who has handled numerous high-profile cases involving the FSB, stated that “laws in Russia either do not work or are applied in a highly selective manner.”

Pavlov argued that this selective application of the law is driven by “political expediency.”

The decision to drop the case against Prigozhin is nothing short of a disgrace, according to Pavlov.

Imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is serving a nine-year sentence for minor prison rule violations, has been placed in solitary confinement.

Navalny’s ally Georgy Alburov expressed his astonishment at the closure of the armed rebellion case, highlighting the stark contrast with their own situations.

Navalny initially believed that news of the rebellion was a joke when he was informed about it during a court hearing. His social media post recounted his disbelief at hearing about the capture of Rostov, the downing of helicopters, and an armed column heading towards Moscow, waiting for someone to yell, “You got punk’d!” — an expectation that was never fulfilled.

It is worth noting that Prigozhin had longstanding connections to Putin and had previously secured lucrative catering contracts from the Kremlin before founding the private military contractor Wagner, which has deployed forces in Syria, African countries, and Ukraine.


Shortly after Russia sent its troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, spreading “false information” about the Russian army or “discrediting” it became a criminal offense. Authorities have utilized this law to crack down on anyone who speaks out against the war or deviates from the official narrative.

The crackdown has been sweeping, with law enforcement targeting both prominent opposition figures and ordinary citizens.

Opposition politician Ilya Yashin received an 8½-year prison sentence after being convicted of this charge for denouncing the atrocities committed by Russian troops in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. His colleague on a Moscow municipal council, Alexei Gorinov, was sentenced to seven years on the same charges.

In a Facebook post by Yashin’s legal team, it was highlighted that Prigozhin “captured a city, fired at Russian military aircraft, and slammed the face of the entire military leadership into a table.”

However, the post went on to point out that individuals like Gorinov, Yashin, and Evgeny Roizman continue to be the ones discrediting the army.

St. Petersburg artist Sasha Skochilenko is currently on trial for replacing price tags in a supermarket with anti-war slogans. She has spent over a year in pretrial detention and faces a potential 10-year prison sentence if convicted.

In late June, a prominent Russian rights group called OVD-Info, which provides legal assistance, reported that 603 people were facing criminal charges for their anti-war stances. Many were fined for participating in war protests, even those who held up blank pieces of paper or Leo Tolstoy’s novel “War and Peace,” actions deemed to discredit the army.

Prigozhin, who openly berated military leadership with profanity-laden insults on social media for months, was never charged under this law.


Prigozhin admitted that his fighters targeted Russian military aircraft during the revolt, resulting in the deaths of personnel on board.

However, ordinary Russians who threw Molotov cocktails or attempted to set fire to military enlistment offices as a form of protest against the war received lengthy prison sentences, despite causing minimal damage.

Russian media have reported at least 77 attempts to set fire to enlistment offices since the start of the war. Many of these cases have resulted in convictions.

The harshest sentence thus far, 19 years, was handed down to Roman Nasryev and Alexei Nuriyev, who were accused of throwing Molotov cocktails at an enlistment office in the town of Bakal in the Chelyabinsk region. The resulting fire was small, and no one was injured, according to media reports.

Nasryev stated in court that he was expressing his “disagreement with the special military operation,” the term used by the Kremlin to describe the war in Ukraine.

Kiril Butylin, a plumber from a town outside Moscow, received a 13-year sentence. He faced charges of vandalism, making public calls for terrorist activity, and committing a terrorist act after painting a Ukrainian flag and an anti-war slogan on the wall of an enlistment office and throwing two Molotov cocktails at it.

Sentences for others involved in attempts to set fire to enlistment offices ranged from 1½ to 12 years.


In his recent address to the nation, Putin referred to Prigozhin’s rebellion as “treason.” In Russia, this is a grave offense that is handled secretly and rarely leads to acquittals.

In recent years, it has been employed against Kremlin critics, scientists involved in international research, and most recently, Russians who oppose the war and donate money to support Ukraine’s army.

Valery Golubkin, a 70-year-old aerospace scientist, was convicted of treason on Monday and sentenced to 12 years in prison for allegedly divulging state secrets to foreign organizations. Golubkin maintained his innocence, with his lawyers arguing that he was working on an international project and had permission to share data with his foreign partners.

Prominent opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. was convicted of treason earlier this year and received a 25-year sentence for publicly denouncing the war.

Former journalist Ivan Safronov was also convicted of treason last year and sentenced to 22 years for allegedly passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national. Safronov vehemently denied the charges, and many Russian journalists view his case as retaliation for his exposés on dubious arms deals.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at [link to the news source].

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Selective enforcement

Q: Why did Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenary chief, walk free after the armed rebellion?

A: Yevgeny Prigozhin, known for his connections to Putin, managed to evade prosecution after leading the armed rebellion due to an agreement reached with the Kremlin. Despite the promise to punish the rebels, the case was dropped, highlighting political expediency and selective enforcement in Russia.

Q: How were Kremlin critics treated compared to Prigozhin?

A: Kremlin critics, including opposition figures and ordinary citizens, have faced severe consequences for their actions. They have been subjected to lengthy prison terms, fines, and charges of discrediting the army for expressing dissent against the war in Ukraine or challenging Putin’s rule. The contrast in treatment highlights the selective enforcement of the law.

Q: What is the significance of the “treason” charges mentioned in the text?

A: “Treason” is a grave offense in Russia, often used against Kremlin critics, scientists, and individuals who support Ukraine’s army. It is adjudicated in secrecy and rarely results in acquittals. The mention of treason in relation to Prigozhin’s rebellion underscores the severity of the charge and its potential implications for those targeted by the Kremlin.

Q: How has the Russian government cracked down on anti-war protests?

A: The Russian government has implemented laws criminalizing the spread of “false information” about the Russian army or its discreditation. These laws have been used to suppress anti-war sentiments and deviating from the official narrative. Numerous individuals, including opposition politicians and ordinary citizens, have faced criminal charges, prison sentences, fines, and other consequences for participating in war protests.

Q: What examples highlight the selective application of the law in Russia?

A: The text mentions cases where individuals who expressed criticism or engaged in acts of protest faced severe consequences while Prigozhin, who openly insulted military leadership, evaded charges. Examples include opposition figures receiving lengthy prison sentences, ordinary citizens facing prosecution for vandalizing enlistment offices, and artists facing trials for expressing anti-war sentiments. These cases demonstrate the selective enforcement of the law based on political expediency.

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ArtLover22 June 28, 2023 - 7:05 am

painting antiwar slogans lands you in jail? that’s art and expression, not a crime! russia needs to respect freedom of speech and creativity. #ArtIsNotACrime

NewsJunkie88 June 28, 2023 - 1:37 pm

can’t believe how they’re treating critics and protestors! harsh sentences for peaceful acts while the mercenary leader walks free. kremlin’s got their own rules. smh

FreedomFighter June 28, 2023 - 1:49 pm

Prigozhin got away, but people protesting the war in ukraine get slammed with harsh prison sentences? it’s a messed up system. #unfair


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