Like Fredo Corleone in The Godfather, Yevgeny Prigozhin should have seen it coming. After all, if you are going to betray the Godfather, you should expect to pay the price. And while Fredo was understandably upset at being passed over by younger brother Michael in the Corleone succession plan, his betrayal of his brother to Johnny Ola (Dominic Chianese, who later became more famous as Uncle Junior in The Sopranos) Fredo’s fate should have been obvious to him by the famous kiss that Michael laid on his lips (“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.”)
But Prigozhin’s treachery was committed against a much more powerful patron, Vladimir Putin, whose thuggery extends well beyond pedestrian organized crime and includes the attempted destruction of a sovereign nation, Ukraine, for the purpose of incorporating it into its bogus historical destiny as part of Greater Russia. And while Prigozhin had been useful to Putin for many reasons, from catering state dinners to using his private army of mercenaries, the Wagner Group, to further Putin’s interests in Syria, Africa and, yes, Ukraine, his defiance of the regular Russian military leaders and his treasonous march towards Moscow that threatened Putin’s reign was a step too far for the strongman-in-chief.
Although nothing is certain, and Putin unsurprisingly has denied any involvement in the mysterious plane crash that killed Prigozhin, his opponents seem to suffer an un-coincidental number of suspicious fatal and near fatal attacks that make him the obvious instigator of the bombing of the plane that resulted in Prighozin’s death.
When it appeared that Putin was willing to forgive and forget Prigozhin’s sins by shipping him to friendly neighbor Belarus, many took it as a sign of Putin’s weakness. Subsequent events appeared to signal that the two had kissed and made up, even that Prigozhin was being let back into the inner circle. But Putin is not a man who goes lightly on those who oppose him.
In 2006, Putin critic and former spy Alexander Litvinenko died after sipping tea laced with radioactive polonium at a posh Mayfair hotel in London. In 2013, Putin backer turned opponent Boris Berezovsky was found hanged in his bathroom in Berkshire, England. And in 2015, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down on a bridge next to the Kremlin. In 2018, Sergei Skripal, a 66-year-old former colonel in Russia’s military intelligence who had lived in Britain since a 2010 spy exchange, was poisoned with a nerve agent, but survived. Then there is Alexei Navalny, who languishes in a Siberian prison after a failed poisoning attempt with the same agent and whose return to Russia has led to charge after trumped up charge that have resulted in longer and longer prison sentences. Putin’s record is one that even Stalin could admire.
In dealing with Prigozhin, Putin obviously followed another famous maxim from The Godfather: “[k]eep your friends close but your enemies closer.” Prigozhin proved useful until he wasn’t. Like Fredo, he should have known that if you strike the King, you have to kill the King. Nobody knows this better than Vladimir Putin. Or Michael Corleone.