"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"As events unfolded, changing as rapidly as the genders in the U.S. swimming team, the legacy media again proved lacking."
Deep breaths — what happened in Russia? Was there a coup? How come the supposed pro-Putin Wagner private army proved it is easier to invade Russia than Ukraine? How come the Russian military appeared incapable of stopping Prigozhin and his crew? And what did the Western intelligence agencies know?
Prigozhin, a former hot-dog seller, became famous for his frequent rants against his supposed ally, the Russian Ministry of Defence. By all accounts, his men — 25,000 battled hardened troops — bore the brunt of the fighting in Ukraine, often without the support they felt needed.
His "Where's my fucking ammo" is a classic in the annals of command rhetoric that military wonks will study for years at Sandhurst and West Point, along with his rapid advance on Moscow. The man has an effective pugnacious bent and an army that responds to his command. This combination is old-school "Game of Thrones" stuff.
On Friday, having allegedly come under missile attack from his own side, Prigozhin disengaged his troops from the Donbas front in Ukraine, did an about-turn, and took the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don to cheering crowds. Those welcoming crowds tell a story.
Prigozhin's men then set off up the M4 motorway to Voronezh, some 465 km away. They took the city after some resistance. Not pausing, the convoy pushed on as far north as Yelets, within two hours driving time of Moscow. Somewhere along the way, this flying column came under attack by helicopter gunships. Depending on who you believe, they shot down between three and seven plus a transport plane.
Meanwhile, a scramble was underway in Moscow to block the M4 — Russia's only motorway. Video soon emerged of dug-up road sections and make shift barriers. At the same time, many private jets departed Moscow. Some headed to St Petersburg, Putin's home base, and others went to the Middle East, with Dubai a favourite destination.
It appears many of the wealthiest Russians had their exit plans up and running. Did they conclude that Prigozhin had Moscow in sight and the Russian military was hopeless? Well, that's one narrative.
Prigozhin halted his remarkable advance late on Saturday at the behest of the Belarus leader as a truce was parleyed. As a result, Prigozhin and his men are heading to Belarus for now.
Who knows what's going on? A few Western spooks claim they had hints in mid-June that something was afoot. You know, the guys who didn't join the dots to stop 9/11, then claimed WMDs in Iraq and hesitated to call the invasion of Ukraine last year.
The same people who, for decades, told us the Russian army remains a formidable force — we've not seen much evidence of that in Ukraine.
As events unfolded, changing as rapidly as the genders in the U.S. swimming team, the legacy media again proved lacking. The best commentary I saw came from a Russian kid in the U.S. who monitored Telegram groups and YouTube. Operating from his bedroom, he provided instant translations and played video clips of mined streets in Rostov-on-Don. Moreover, he had access to other sources that allowed him to track the movement of Wagner convoys.
At the same time, the usual talking heads took to TV to claim that Putin staged the whole show to extract himself from a war he was losing. I have to say such an idea grants Putin a stunning level of cunning not borne out by events. For starters, he was calling Prigozhin a criminal on Saturday morning, but by the evening hailing him.
If Putin is trying to shape public opinion, such a reversal doesn't suggest a plan but a scramble to resolve a crisis. That Putin reportedly fled to St Petersburg, where his jet was seen, indicates a man in a hurry to avoid facing Prigozhin.
Plus, don't forget that Putin operates within a complex dynamic of official Russian troops, Wagner, and a load of edgy Chechens. To spice things up - they all hate each other.
In 1997, James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg made several bold predictions in their book, "The Sovereign Individual." Included in that foretelling was the rise of private armies as a means for states to fight wars without risking wider conflagrations.
And Russia has used such groups to affect in Africa and elsewhere. But the idea is not new; the U.S. co-opted the Montagnards in Vietnam and the Afghan Mujahideen. Had Putin been taking note, he'd have seen that these proxy outfits can sometimes turn and bite their master. The Mujahideen morphed into the Taliban and arguably helped seed the 9/11 attacks. In 2021, the Taliban marched back into Kabul as retreating U.S.-led Western forces fled out of Afghanistan.
It is an understatement to say that the political situation in Russia remains complex and fluid. No one has a handle on events. But certain things are clear. Putin looks weaker, and he's lost 25,000 of his most effective fighters, who will languish in Belarus for now.
That raises a host of issues. What is Prigozhin's status in Belarus? What are his guys going to be doing? I'd like to know because more trouble is coming for somebody when they move again. But who?
Still, Putin has many enemies within Russia, and they may sense it is time to act. Likewise, Putin will seek out those who gave tacit support to Prigozhin, so watch for a purge as he shores up his position. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are waiting to exploit these events.
And somewhere in Russia, is a massive nuclear arsenal that affords the owner unparalleled leverage. Let us hope that lot is secure. Coupled with that, Moscow remains under emergency lockdown, as Monday is declared a holiday.
The big question remains, could Putin fall? Maybe. That's the problem with authoritarian regimes; they can implode from within very quickly if the momentum for change builds. Not saying that's the case here - but history is a good teacher.
All things considered, as Sunday evening arrives after a hectic weekend on the geopolitical front, there are more questions than answers.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.