Coup to Form

Members of the Wagner Group prepare to depart from the Southern Military District's headquarters and return to their base in Rostov on June 24, 2023. (Photo by Arkady Budnitsky/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Watching capital-E Events unfold this weekend brought to mind two titans of the 20th century.

“Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” Winston Churchill once said. Rational analysis of why members of the siloviki behave as they do will get you only so far before it founders on the inscrutability of private grudges, secret alliances, and collective psychopathy.

The other titan was Casey Stengel, who went from managing baseball’s greatest dynasty in the 1950s to overseeing the historically terrible New York Mets in their first season in 1962. Vexed by a team of has-beens and never-was-es bumbling their way around the diamond, Stengel wondered, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

My attempts to understand The Putsch That Wasn’t alternate between those modes of thinking. There must be a logical explanation for why Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin would mobilize thousands of his men to invade Russia and threaten Moscow—only to decide “nah” and turn back a few hours outside the capital. But when you’re working off highly incomplete information, as we amateur Kremlinologists are, you’re destined to feel confounded. Riddle, mystery, enigma.

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