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Believe Nothing Putin or Prigozhin Tell You

In the days ahead, the West must remain calm — and redouble its support for Ukraine.

By Andrei Kozyrev

June 2023

Even while it may seem to lie dormant, anything can happen in Russia suddenly and quickly. I have seen this firsthand as a Russian citizen and during my days in office. No one should accept at face value the words or messages from Vladimir Putin or Yevgeny Prigozhin. One moment they may embrace each other, the next they will try to devour each other. Such is the way of cynical opportunists and gangsters, who are the rulers and power brokers in Russia today.

For everyone else, I would advise calm. During whatever convulsions Putin’s Russia may experience in the days and weeks ahead — as the Kremlin does its best to obscure the fissures that are growing — the United States should remain calm and levelheaded — and double military aid to Ukraine. Such aid is crucial in preventing any instability in Russia from escalating into an international disaster. The longer the war and the more warlords fight, the greater the risk for the stockpile of nuclear weapons housed nearby. Giving Kyiv advanced weapons to regain its entire territory and shorten the war is vital to avoid nuclear escalation.

Russian prodemocracy supporters would be wise to stay calm, too. No one should ever believe that a figure such as Prigozhin and the people around him are worthy of support. Platitudes such as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” should have no purchase with those who are working toward a democratic Russia, however distant that may seem today. Because, no matter how dark a chapter this may be, Russians should never believe that their only choice is between mafia bosses and chaos.

Andrei Kozyrev is an author and former politician who was the Russian Federation’s first foreign minister (1991–96). He was twice elected to the State Duma, where he served from 1994 to 2000. More recently, he was a distinguished fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute (2016–17). His books include his 2020 memoir, The Firebird: The Elusive Fate of Russian Democracy.


Copyright © 2023 National Endowment for Democracy

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