Or, if you’re afflicted by the paywall, (CNN) WaPo: Key Russian oligarch in touch with Russia, Assad before mercenaries attacked US troops.
Several narratives might be contemplated. One could be an additional item for the question posed in Mueller Indictments; Why We’re Mad; Walter Lippman’s Democracy:
- Should this be confirmed by U.S. intelligence, will it inevitably force the conclusion that we are in a state of low intensity, “hybrid war” with Russia? Are there circumstances such that we could we let this pass as “water under the bridge”?
But the hopeless odds, and the apparent wish that the episode of the Wagner Group attack would simply go away offers yet another narrative: the ultra-nationalist tail wagging the Russian dog. Russia has a serious problem with ultra-nationalist steam in the kettle, with rare opportunities to blow it off. By some accounts, it took about two weeks of unsanctioned, and at least partly self-financed activity by ultra nationalists in eastern Ukraine before Putin became a convert to that cause. He’s still stuck with it.
Ultra-nationalists are romantics, not in the delicate sense of flowers and perfume, but instead for blood-and-soil, and mystical glorification of primitive tribal instincts. Russia has too many of these, the remnants of an aging, backwards mono-culture stuck in a downtrend. Vladimir Putin has found them useful tools in the reinvention of a Russia in the imperial image. But they are crude, uncontrollable, and have all the unstable, fulminating tendency of gunpowder that has been badly stored for a long time.
If you like Google Earth, take a close look at 35°24’17.07″N, 40°14’21.15″E. (or thereabouts). It’s 6.78 miles bearing 49.68 degrees out of Deir ez-Zur. Areas of vegetation extending as much as 2.3 miles east of the Euphrates were thought by Russian mercenaries to provide cover for river passage by tanks and infantry. Once out of the cover of vegetation, it would take at most a 2.82 mile dash over flat terrain, with no cover, to overrun the SDF HQ.
But Wagner Group was pitting their spirited but primitive, full-of-guts but poorly trained, wanna-kill but short-on-brains ultra-nationalists against a reasonably professional Kurdish force hybridized with American doctrine and technology, combined with deep tactical air support. Incomprehensibly, the Wagner Group planners did not understand that the modern battlefield is electronic. It sensed their presence, even as they poked their way through the palms along the river, (Bloomberg) late 2/7/2017.
It appears that Yevgeniy Prigozhin received approval from a Kremlin figure for the operation to seize the al-Omar oil field, with Prigozhin rewarded by royalties on the oil. But what chance of success did the Kremlin give it? It wasn’t a small operation. The proposal had to be studied by somebody.
The Russian military intelligence counterpart to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency is the GRU. Since the 1991 Gulf War, the evolving tactics of the U.S. military have been the main focus of their study. The modern Russian military is in many ways an emulation of that of the U.S. As a matter of course, the proposed operation of Wagner Group would have been studied, the hazards, opportunities, and chances enumerated, and a prognostication rendered.
So it’s down to this. If the GRU produced a report, it expressed one of these opinions:
- Significant chance of success, with deniability, justifying Kremlin approval.
- Coin-flip, But since it was deniable, and the reward substantial, approval was granted.
- Failure, or small chance of success. But even if the op failed, approval by the Kremlin would constitute a safer diversion of ultra-nationalism than denial of approval by the Kremlin.
The assumption of reasonable or better competence of the GRU, and their long period of study of the American military, implies the the estimate of “failure.”
Approval of a hopeless mission has not been the most severe sanction applied by the Kremlin to ultra-nationalists. In eastern Ukraine, a number of “first generation” “separatist” leaders, found uncontrollable by the Kremlin, were assassinated by Russian special forces.