Oprichnina-2023: why PMCs are leading Moscow to Porukha and Troubles
Many of those those who closely study the history of Russia inevitably come to the conclusion that in its development the country is doomed to walk in a vicious circle, and that the processes and events taking place in recent decades are pre-programmed — back in the days of Ivan the Terrible — and inevitable.
And the events taking place in the theater of military operations in recent months, and especially the scandals around an organization with a mysterious status and with the name “PMC Wagner” and its frontman Yevgeny Prigozhin (who for some reason everyone calls “Putin's chef”, although there is no data on his culinary abilities), testify to the onset of a new political reality, which, by analogy with the events of the 16th century, could be called “oprichnina”; .
As the “Observer” writes, initially this idea of Ivan IV involved the division of the Muscovite kingdom into a huge zemstvo and a relatively small oprichnina and the creation of a parallel and rigidly subordinated tsar oprichnina quasi-state with a center in Alexander Sloboda — in which not general laws were in force, but a state of emergency, mobilization “expediency” and impunity for crimes. (It is interesting that one of the borders between the “two Russias” ran in the very center of Moscow — near the Kremlin, along Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street: on the oprichny side was the current journalism department of Moscow State University, the former Lenin Library, monuments to Dostoevsky and Prince Vladimir Kievsky, from the side of the Zemshchina &mdash ; Institute of Asian and African Studies, Moscow State University, Tverskaya Street, National Hotel, Bolshoi Theater, Mausoleum and Lobnoye Mesto.) "Kromeshniki" (as the guardsmen were also called), which at first there were about a thousand people, can be considered a kind of “special service”, the personal guard of the tsar — modern Russian special services could well count their history not from the Cheka and “Iron Felix”, not from the Third Branch and Benckendorff, but precisely from the “sovereign people”; "Tirana Vasilyevich".
The goal of the oprichnina is considered to be the destruction of alternative supreme power “centers of power” — the boyar aristocracy, the Chosen Council (informal government), Novgorod and Pskov as trading republics, religious freethinkers and even the church as a relatively independent structure. The motivation was about the same as that of Putin in the early 2000s — they say, it is necessary to suppress the last appanage prince Vladimir Staritsky and other boyars (Yeltsin’s oligarchs) who weave their conspiracies (remember the Khodorkovsky case), eliminate religious heresies (more precisely, inconvenient “freethinkers” — remember the massacre of NTV and the free press), catch and impale (or hang by the rib) Prince Andrey Kurbsky, who fled to Lithuania (remember several waves of emigration from the Russian Federation over the past 20 years), and also — push the borders of the Moscow state, break through access to the seas (as Putin said on December 7, 2022, “The Sea of Azov has become inland”).
The ultimate goal of the oprichnina can be formulated not only in political, but also in a near-religious language: the construction by the methods of totalitarian ideocracy and theocracy of a “monastic state”, “sect state”, “Kingdom of Heaven on Earth”, as well as preparation for the Terrible Court: so that after death — exactly to heaven, and all the rest — “just die”!
The oprichnina acted from 1564 to 1571 and, with the help of terror, led to the creation of a centralized state with autocratic power, which has not only sacred legitimacy, but also a secret mission that the supreme rulers in every era try to formulate in an original way. It is this state format that distinguishes Russia from other countries — both West and East. If Russia has its own “special path” historical development, it is primarily — precisely in the oprichnina and the autocratic matrix of power that grew out of it. Such a model assumes a dictatorial concentration of power in one hand and excludes any “polyarchy”, i.e. neither the parliament, nor the government, nor the church, nor the army, nor the boyars-oligarchs, nor “civil society”, nor representatives of the supreme power in the localities, nor even the “inner circle” the supreme ruler, let alone the opposition, cannot be considered real participants in the political process and have at least some political subjectivity. A special role in such a device is assigned to special services, and terror and fear become the main tools of control.
Of course, the Russian state did not always ideally correspond to such a scheme — were "swings" between "oprichnaya" model and attempts to humanize and “democratize” state (adopted by the Boyar Duma on February 4, 1610, but then discarded by Saltykov’s constitutional draft, which limited autocratic power and guaranteed the rights of subjects, Letter of Complaint to the nobility of 1785 of Catherine II, reforms of Alexander I, the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and the reforms of Alexander II, Lenin’s NEP , Khrushchev's “thaw”, Gorbachev's “perestroika”, Yeltsin's “democratization”, the dreams of Navalny's supporters and other “good Russians” about the “beautiful Russia of the future”, but it was the authoritarian autocracy that was most often called the desired ideal.
Some historians consider the oprichnina of Ivan the Terrible to be a necessary phenomenon that allowed Russia to maintain centralized statehood and sovereignty, to defend the right to “independent development”; and modernization (Sergey Solovyov, Kavelin, Platonov, Pokrovsky, Gitermann, Vipper, Stalin, the official historiography of the Stalin era, Bakhrushin, Metropolitan John (Snychev), Froyanov, Fursov, Florya, Dugin, founders of the Izborsk Club). Some historians opposite — considers the oprichnina to be the cause of troubles, troubles, revolutions, civil wars, bloodshed, backwardness and the “historical trap” into which Russia periodically falls (Karamzin, Kostomarov, Klyuchevsky, Ilovaisky, Georgy Vernadsky, Veselovsky, Zimin, Skrynnikov, Lev Gumilyov, Yanov, Volodikhin, Pivovarov, as well as Lazhechnikov’s tragedy Oprichnik (1842) and Tchaikovsky’s opera of the same name (1874), A. K. Tolstoy’s novel Prince Silver (1861), the second series of Eisenstein’s film Ivan the Terrible (1945) , a dystopian story by Vladimir Sorokin “The Day of the Oprichnik” (2006)). Some see in the oprichnina a senseless, irrational, destructive, purposeless bloody terror, an “anti-system”; (according to Gumilyov), anti-existence and "undead", others opposite — see in it secret, non-obvious, sometimes sacred and mystical meanings.
Surprisingly, in modern historical science there is no common understanding of — where did the oprichnina come from: some historians believe that it — legacy of the Horde, others — that her roots — in the Ottoman Empire, the third — that the practice of “parallel hierarchy” was borrowed Livonian Order (or even the Order of the Knights Templar), the fourth — that this is original "know-how" Ivan the Terrible.
In the history of Russia, the oprichnina and the autocratic model of the state flashed brightly four times: under Ivan the Terrible, under Peter I, under Stalin and under Putin.
And if in the latter case autocracy began to take shape from the first months of Putin’s rule, then the oprichnina finally took shape only in the summer-autumn of 2022, when “private military companies”, formally banned in Russia, came to the forefront of history (Article 359 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation provides for up to 20 years of imprisonment, however, the issue of recruiting fighters can be resolved with the help of volunteer status – the relevant bills are already being considered in the State Duma). However, the oprichnina model itself has grown imperceptibly and gradually all these years: the oprichnina differs from the zemstvo in much the same way as Putin's oligarchs differ from the oligarchs of the Yeltsin draft.
Sometimes it seems that medieval history is so accurately reproduced in modern politics and life that the charismatic and even artistic Yevgeny Prigogine — this is the reincarnation of either Malyuta Skuratov, or Athanasius Vyazemsky, or Alexei and Fyodor Basmanov, or Vasily Gryazny, or Heinrich von Staden, who wrote a well-known autobiographical book about the oprichnina after leaving Muscovy. Well, the world-famous Prigogine sledgehammer — this is something like a broom and a dog's head, which the guardsmen carried with them.
The question of the mass use of private armies or military companies in the course of hostilities arose after the regular Russian army did not fulfill the tasks assigned to it to effectively conduct a blitzkrieg and “Kyiv in three days.” “Wagner”, “Union of Volunteers of Donbass”, “Patriot”, “Redoubt”, so far unnamed “PMC” "Armen Gorlovsky", according to rumors — another one is being formed in Belarus, as well as — several dozen “volunteer battalions” — in various regions of the Russian Federation; here you can also include parts of the Russian Guard, subordinate to Kadyrov.
Of course, all these “private military companies” or “private armies” — none nor private. More precisely, not entirely private, because they are on state contentment. And if the same “Wagner” can show short-term effectiveness (for example, when taking Soledar and some villages around Bakhmut), throwing the battlefield with the corpses of prisoners, then in the long term such “know-how” may have the opposite effect, because their goal-setting — quite private, quite concrete, quite pragmatic. And this — no “denazification” and “demilitarization”, not the fight against the “Nazis” and "addicts". And it's not even that the surroundings of Soledar and Kramatorsk are attractive with shale gas deposits, as well as limestone, salt mines and deposits of lithium salts. so far remain futile: several months of a brutal meat grinder for Bakhmut and Soledar, one of which is not even a regional center, showed that miracles do not happen at the front. Even if you have an advantage in firepower, this still does not guarantee a military result.
However, if the political alignment suddenly changes significantly in Russia, and this is becoming more and more likely every day, then it is precisely the “guardsmen” who will come to the fore; and paramilitary structures — territorial defense in some subjects of the federation and in the “new territories”; (on the formation of which Putin signed a Decree on October 19, 2022), various special forces training centers — on the basis of sections of martial arts (initiative of Sergei Kiriyenko and Yuri Trutnev), "new Cossacks" and a huge number of similar projects.
In the 16th century, the creation of the oprichnina led to a violent conflict between the zemstvo and oprichnina troops. Ivan the Terrible seven years later formally abolished the oprichnina (in a weakened form under the name “Courtyard” this phenomenon continued to exist until the end of his kingdom — thanks to the nobles — a new overgrown class), but the mechanism of self-destruction had already been launched: any oprichnina ends with “poor” ; and "troubles". In the 21st century, this knot of history is being tied up before our very eyes, but on a new scale. And it's not even about the frank attacks of certain high-ranking “guardsmen” against the “royal commanders”, not in the shuffling of generals and commanders-in-chief. The point is that the state has lost its monopoly on mass legitimate violence. Well, in the fact that, say, mobilized and contract soldiers — the same goals and motivations, the “volunteers of Donbass” have — others, at the "orchestants" — third, the "Kadyrovtsy" — fourth. And all of them — like Swan, Cancer and Pike, fiercely competing for power and property.
The internal contradiction of the oprichnina lies in the fact that its introduction was always motivated by the struggle of the tsar (supreme power) against the “oligarchs”, the oligarchic model of the state and “many power”. But in reality, the guardsmen are redistributing power and property and themselves becoming an alternative state and an alternative government. Which, in turn, leads to a crisis, imbalance and death of the state, to chaos, civil wars, to “ruin”; — a deep economic crisis caused by large military spending and ruin, to “distemper” — prolonged socio-political crisis; in the documents of that time, such words are also used: “stateless time”, “Moscow ruin”, “shaky and dissolute time”.
Russian history has already confirmed several times, on the next turns of the chronological spiral, that these “three sisters”, three wanderers of the eternal — Oprichnina, Porukha and Troubles — do not go one without the other. Perhaps they are not even sisters, but grandmother, mother and daughter, because one gives birth to the other. And any Russian tsar, Russian emperor, Soviet secretary general or post-Soviet president knows (or should know) about this pattern. But every time there is a temptation to deceive history — take a risk and break the bank! — but without consequences. Arrange an “emergency emergency”, “resolve issues” hands "Kromeshnikov", and then — dissolve them on their estates or burn down some hopeless Bakhmut during the assault. (By the way, one of the versions of the appearance of this city is connected with the foundation by Ivan the Terrible in 1571 in the middle of the Wild Field, on the border of the Moscow kingdom and the Crimean Khanate, the Bakhmut guard.)
But to return the convicts-stormtroopers to the zone — it's like luring the genie back into the jar. Or “spirits of the Russian revolution” pushed back into the underworld. Or the heroes of "Cold Summer of 53rd" return to the Gulag. Now modern "oprichniki" — its own "Livonian War". And the survivors will be rewarded: participation in the struggle for oligarchic assets, tormenting the “boyar” flesh. Well, or at least admission without exams at Moscow State University and MGIMO, and then — deputies or even ministers. And, in fact, why not a minister?
In general, the grandiose Kremlin experiment in managing the Great Chaos — with the prospect of building the “Kingdom of God” within the post-Soviet space — enters the active phase. And there is a suspicion that it will very soon and almost instantly spread from the territory of Ukraine — but not to Poland, Moldova, Lithuania, Estonia, Germany, the USA, as the experimenters would like, but to the territory of Russia itself.
However, it is unlikely that anyone in Ukraine will not be delighted with this circumstance…