Narrating the Wagner Uprising as a Nuclear Hybrid Threat

Introduction: From Nuclear Terrorism to Nuclear Hybrid Threats (and Nuclear Hybrid Warfare)

The geopolitical threat posed by the charismatic leader of a private military corporation (PMC) in possession of a stolen nuclear weapon and set against the backdrop of conspiracy theories involving Russia are themes central to the narrative of Konami’s “Metal Gear” series of videogames.

From June 23-24 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the ‘Big Boss’ of PMC Wagner led his troops in an unprecedented uprising against Vladimir Putin. This week, Ukrainian intelligence spread narratives that the Wagner mercenaries had attempted to steal “backpack nukes” from a military base in Russia during their march on Moscow [1]; and so it was that life imitated the art of Metal Gear.

Meme with Yevgeny Prigozhin depicted as Metal Gear Solid’s Big Boss (credit:; Original:

Such scenarios as explored in Metal Gear and many other works of art might most often be classified academically under the keyphrase of “nuclear terrorism”. “Nuclear terrorism” (in quotes) seems a well-documented research area, which returned 22,300 hits today on Google Scholar for example.

However, for over a week before the narrative about Wagner raiding the nuclear base circulated, I had already been wondering if the Wagner uprising had been connected in any way to the tactical nuclear weapons which Russia had publicly placed in Belarus. I wondered if that may better explain Alexander Lukashenko’s strange role in the story as well.

In discussing my scenarios of using Wagner as a proxy for a deniable nuclear attack with hybrid warfare and disinformation expert Chris Kremidas-Courtney  (Senior Fellow, Defense and Security, Friends of Europe), he told me I was describing a “nuclear hybrid threat.

Kremidas-Courtney deserves credit for coining this term in an academic context from what I can tell based on a quick literature review.  “Nuclear hybrid threat” does not occur on Google Scholar, and at least one of the two results for “nuclear hybrid warfare” appears to be a false positive.

Defining the PMC Wagner revolt more specifically in the scenario of a nuclear hybrid threat rather than as nuclear terrorism seems to have significant value from a modern academic information warfare perspective.

Hybrid threats have been defined by NATO as: “combin[ing] military and non-military as well as covert and overt means, including disinformation, cyber attacks, economic pressure, deployment of irregular armed groups and use of regular forces. Hybrid methods are used to blur the lines between war and peace, and attempt to sow doubt in the minds of target populations.” [2]

A nuclear hybrid threat could be defined as those nation-state hybrid threats which are related specifically to nuclear materials or weapons; and yet do not rise to the level of an actual nuclear war.

In this blog, I will seek to unpack the idea of 2023’s nuclear hybrid threats as generated by Russia in their war in Ukraine, especially as they relate to similar narratives of theoretical nuclear terrorism from Russia in the 1990’s involving “suitcase atomic bombs”, “briefcase nukes”, etc.

Perhaps this all ends up looking like a “nuclear cardboard box“…

Continue reading “Narrating the Wagner Uprising as a Nuclear Hybrid Threat”

A Word to the People 1991 (Alexander Prokhanov et. al)

The idea of fostering unity of the supranational Russian Federation seems to be a consistent and conscious goal of modern Russian ideologists who are actively pursuing the adoption of a new national ideology [1 , 2]. Part of this conscious focus on unity may be due to an awareness that the Soviet Union disintegrated on ethnic-national boundaries in part because of its inability to establish a unifying ideology which appealed to the different ethnicities, cultures, and religions which the ‘evil empire’ was comprised of [3, 4].

Even as Russian ideologists actively work to promote a unifying “ideology of victory” in the new war [5], there are increasing observations in the West that the Russian Federation may be teetering on collapse and likely to further disintegrate along similar lines to those of 1991 [6].

Once again, as a key piece of Russian literature remains elusive to find in English, I will post below a translation of the July 1991 essay “A Word to the People”. This essay appeared in the hard-line Sovetskaya Rossiya journal and served as the ideological foundations for the August 1991 coup attempt. The text is widely attributed to the authorship of signatory Alexander Prokhanov, who continues to contribute to modern ideological projects of the Izborsky Club (such as the ideology of victory).

I feel this article is useful for framing how Russian ideologists were conscious of the impending collapse of the USSR, the awareness of the importance for national unity, and ultimately how this argument has somewhat come to represent not just the position of the August 1991 coup plotters – but also seemingly of the ideological elite in Putin’s Russia in 2022.

Ultimately the focus on unity of the disintegrating supranational empire as elaborated below is also a useful concept for understanding the ecumenical appeal of “desatanization” as an intentional ideological process within modern Russia.

A Word to the People
July 23, 1991

Dear Russians! Citizens of the USSR! Compatriots!

There was a huge unforeseen grief. Our homeland, our country, the great state, given to us for preservation by history, nature, and glorious ancestors, perishes, breaks, and plunges into darkness and non-existence. And this death occurs with our silence, connivance and consent.

Have our hearts and souls turned to stone and none of us has the power, courage, love for the Fatherland that moved our grandfathers and fathers, who laid down their lives for the Motherland on the battlefields and in gloomy dungeons, in great labors and struggles, composed of prayers , hardships and revelations to the state, for whom the Motherland and the state were the highest shrines of life? What happened to us brothers?

Why do cunning and eloquent rulers, clever and cunning apostates, greedy and rich money-grubbers, mocking us, mocking our beliefs, taking advantage of our naivety, seize power, pilfer riches, take away people’s houses, factories and lands, slaughter divide the country into parts, quarrel and fool us, excommunicate us from the past, remove us from the future – doom us to a miserable existence in slavery and subordination to all-powerful neighbors?

How did it happen that at our deafening rallies, in our irritation and impatience, longing for change, desiring prosperity for the country, allowed into power those who did not love this country, who were servile before overseas patrons, out there beyond the sea, seeking advice and blessings?

Brothers, we wake up late, we notice trouble late, when our house is already burning from four corners, when we have to extinguish it not with water, but with our own tears and blood. Can we really allow civil strife and war for the second time in this century, to again throw ourselves into the cruel millstones, which we have not launched, where the bones of the people will grind, and the backbone of Russia will break?

We address you with the words of utmost responsibility, we appeal to representatives of all professions and classes, all ideologies and beliefs, all parties and movements, for whom our differences are nothing before the common misfortune and pain, before the common love for the Motherland, which we see as one, indivisible, which rallied the fraternal peoples into a powerful state, without which we cannot exist under the sun.

Wake up, come to our senses, stand up both old and young for the country.

Let’s say “No!” destroyers and invaders. Let us put a limit on our retreat at the last line of resistance.

We are starting a nationwide movement, calling into our ranks those who have recognized the terrible misfortune that has befallen the country.

We call on the working people, to whom today’s Pharisees promised abundance and earnings, and now they are expelled from factories and mines, doomed to starvation, lack of rights, to dull standing in lines for benefits, a loaf of bread, for alms from the rich and owners.

We call on hard-working peasants, exhausted by ignorant authorities, whose current destinies are decided by yesterday’s destroyers of villages and creators of utopian programs, imposing a enslaving exchange on the grain grower, dooming the arable land to desolation, to the extermination of the surviving farms that feed the country.

We appeal to the engineers, whose hands, mind and talent created a unique technical civilization, a powerful industry that ensured the well-being and protection of the people, which allowed the Motherland to fly into space. Equipment, which, tired of working, needed modernization and renewal, after six years of idleness and ranting, stopped and collapsed, and now we are a country of stopped enterprises, silenced energy, disappeared goods, confused and impoverished engineers excommunicated from creativity.

We appeal to scientists who worthily promoted the development of domestic science, amazed the world with the fruits of their labors, accumulated  discoveries in laboratories and institutes for the next breakthrough into the twenty-first century, where we hoped for a worthy place in human civilization.

Instead, demagogues and malefactors ruin precious accumulations, scatter teams of researchers, close scientific areas, drive blood clots into the development of space research, nuclear technology, and the latest chemistry, dooming the best minds to vegetate, to flee from their native lands to prosperous countries. where their talent will feed not their own, but someone else’s development.

We direct our voice to the Army, having won our respect for humanity for the selfless feat of saving Europe from the Nazi plague, for the Army, which inherited the best qualities of the Russian, Soviet army and opposes aggressive forces. Our glorious defenders are going through difficult times. It is not the fault of the Army that it is forced to hastily leave foreign garrisons, to be the object of shameless political speculations, to be subjected to constant attacks of lies and slander by irresponsible politicians. But no one will be able to turn the Armed Forces into an amorphous mass, disintegrated from within, betrayed to desecration. We are convinced that the soldiers of the Army and Navy, true to their sacred duty, will not allow a fratricidal war, the destruction of the Fatherland, and will act as a reliable guarantor of security and a bulwark of all the healthy forces of society.

We direct our voice to the artists and writers who, bit by bit, created a culture on the ruins of the destroyed classics, who obtained images of beauty and  goodness for the people, who expected the flourishing of the arts in the future, and who found themselves in poverty, reducing creativity to a miserable farce for the amusement of merchants and the rich, when a people, excommunicated from the spirit, deprived of an ideal, ruled by immoral swindlers, is led out of history, turned into cheap labor power for foreign manufacturers.

We turn to the Orthodox Church, which has gone through Calvary, slowly, after all the beatings, rising from the Tomb. She, whose spiritual light shone in Russian history even in times of darkness; today, not yet strong, is tormented by strife, infringed upon in dioceses and parishes, and does not find worthy support in a strong sovereign power. Let her hear the voice of the people calling for salvation.

We appeal to Muslims, Buddhists, Protestants, believers of all denominations, for whom faith is synonymous with goodness, beauty and truth; cruelty, ugliness and lies are attacking them today, destroying their living soul.

We appeal to parties, large and small, to liberals and monarchists, to centralists and zemstvos, to singers of the national idea. We turn to the Communist Party, which bears full responsibility not only for the victories and failures of the previous seventy years, but also for the last six tragic ones, in which the Communist Party first led the country, and then renounced power, giving this  power to frivolous and inept parliamentarians who quarreled between each other, who produced thousands of stillborn laws, of which only those that give the people into bondage, and divides the exhausted yet alive body of the country into parts. The Communists, whose party is being destroyed by their own leaders, having  abandoned their party cards, rush one after another to the camp of the enemy – betray, betray, demand the gallows for their recent comrades – let the Communists hear our call!

The youth, our hope and flower, which is being smoldered, given over to the service of false idols, is doomed to idleness, mediocrity, drugs and crime.

The old people, our wisdom and pride, our unfailing workers and our tireless breadwinners, who received begging and desecration, defilement by a print and television brew of those who seek to kill the memory, in opposition to generations.

Young veterans, internationalist warriors, who showed dedication and humanism, high moral qualities, but placed in a position without guilt of the guilty.

Women who deny themselves the highest natural right to prolong their offspring for fear of breeding poverty, replenishing the army of the civil war with soldiers, afraid of their love and their motherhood …

Everyone who is, in cities and villages, in steppes and forests, at the edge of the great oceans washing the country – let’s wake up, stand up for unity and repulse the destroyers of the Motherland! …

Yuri Bondarev,
Valentin Varennikov,
Boris Gromov,
Ludmila Zykina,
Alexander Prokhanov,
Vasily Starodubtsev,
Yuri Blokhin,
Edward Volodin,
Gennady Zyuganov,
Vyacheslav Klykov,
Valentin Rasputin,
Alexander Tizyakov

“Soviet Russia”, 07/23/91



[1] Marlene Laruelle, “What is the Ideology of a Mobilized Russia?”, Russia Post, October 4 2022,

[2] Juliette Faure, “The deep ideological roots of Russia’s war”, Monde Diplo, April 2022,

[3] Lev Topor and Alexander Tabachnik, “Russian Cyber Information Warfare : International Distribution and Domestic Control”, Journal of Advanced Military Studies vol. 12, no. 1, Spring 2021,

[4] Ronald Grigor Suny, 1993, “The revenge of the past : nationalism, revolution, and the collapse of the Soviet Union”,   Stanford University Press, 

[5] Michael Hotchkiss, “Ideology of Victory and the Death of Daria Dugina”,, September 11 2022, 

[6] Luke Coffey, “Preparing for the Final Collapse of the Soviet Union and the Dissolution of the Russian Federation”, Hudson Institute, December 14 2022, 

[7] Alexander Prokhanov, et. al,  «Слово к народу» (“A Word to the People”), Sovetskaya Rossiya, July 23 1991, (Translation made from reprint: )

“Ideology of Victory” and the Death of Daria Dugina

Daria Dugina (Darya Dugina), daughter of Alexander Dugin, was reported to have died on August 20, 2022 in a car bombing in the Moscow suburbs. Russian political authorities, federal police, and propagandists have consistently portrayed it as an act of Ukrainian terrorism and pointed to Ukrainian suspects.

Conversely, Ukraine has officially denied these allegations. Rather than taking the event at face value as it has been portrayed in Russian media, many Western reports have questioned whether it was an act of “false flag” terrorism.

In this scenario, the killing of Dugina would be intended to bolster public support for the war in Ukraine by reinforcing the idea of Ukraine as a fascist, terrorist state. It would be analogous to a widespread theory that the FSB had carried out a series of apartment bombings in September 1999 in order to bolster public support for a second war in Chechnya.

When Alexander Dugin first released a public statement about the assassination, he did so through Konstantin Malofeev on Malofeev’s Telegram channel [1]. Malofeev, like Dugin has not only been sanctioned for his actions related to Ukraine, but is a member of the ultra-conservative Izborsky Club; a philosophical group which was co-founded by Alexander Prokhanov and Vitali Averyanov, and includes many prominent Russians, some close to Putin [2].

This long-read report demonstrates that regardless of whom may be responsible for the crime, the death of Daria Dugina has been consciously manipulated by figures like Alexander Dugin, Alexander Prokhanov, and Konstantin Malofeev in order to frame the murder as a kind of symbol of martyrdom which supports the neo-imperialist “Ideology of Victory” that was formally articulated by the Izborskists in October 2021, prior to the Ukraine invasion.

The death of Daria Dugina provokes enduring symbols of Russian ideology

This observation in and of itself does not mean the Izborskists have complicity in the murder. But it does seek to prove objectively that the death has been used consciously from the start as an ideological and political instrument of Russian imperial power. Continue reading ““Ideology of Victory” and the Death of Daria Dugina”

Images of Torture and Execution in Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan IV

President Putin recently created a controversy when he “defended” the Oprichnik chief Malyuta Skuratov from the traditionally accepted view that he had strangled Metropolitan Philip for refusing to bless Ivan Grozny’s military campaign on Novgorod. This action has been seen as related to the “information warfare” arguments about Ivan IV which have been crafted by the ideologists of the Izborsky Club; and it may relate to recent national security strategies which seem intended to protect Russia’s “historical memory”.

The ideologists responsible for these narratives have in recent years frequently sought to portray the common negative appraisals of Ivan IV and his guardsmen’s terrors as the product of Western “information wars” which were furthered by Western superiority in printing. The Gutenberg Bible for example was printed in Germany nearly 100 years before Ivan IV ordered the development of the first Russian print yard.

Translated Ivan the Terrible exhibit from ‘Russia, My History’, Moscow

In the above image from the “Russia, My History” exhibitions we can see two German images which are related to this information warfare idea. Continue reading “Images of Torture and Execution in Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan IV”

The Life and Crimes of Arthur Rochford Manby (by Dr. Richard Spence)

Professor of History, Dr. Richard Spence who has previously contributed a very interesting (and highly relevant) blog on Jack Parsons was kind enough to again donate some previously unpublished content for your enjoyment.

The legend of Arthur Rochford Manby  remains an enduring mystery of the American Southwest. A tale spilling over with tantalizing connections to black magic and the occult,  murder, secret societies, foreign intelligence, artwork, and con-artistry — this fascinating report is a  great fit for n01r. 

Who was this mysterious man?


Sagebrush Noir: The Life and Crimes of Arthur Rochford Manby
c. 2015
Dr. Richard B. Spence

On July 3rd, 1929 lawmen and townspeople crowded into a small room of a sprawling adobe mansion in Taos, New Mexico. Blue-bottle flies buzzed all around and the stench of death hung heavy in the air. The assembled gazed at a simple army cot where a half-dressed corpse lay wrapped in a blanket. And it was just a body: the severed, badly mutilated head rested in a nearby room. It was the general opinion then, and since, that the corpse and head belonged to the mansion’s owner, Arthur R. Manby. But others were not so sure. Most importantly, how had Manby died?

Taos' unsolved mystery | Tradiciones / Leyendas |
Last known picture of Arthur Rochford Manby (1860-1929)

Continue reading “The Life and Crimes of Arthur Rochford Manby (by Dr. Richard Spence)”

The ROC’s Pro-Vaccination Conspiracy Theories

In American conservative media, there has been a recent push encouraging vaccine adoption. Notable examples of figures making public statements advocating for vaccines over the past week include Mitch McConnell, Steve Scalise, and Sean Hannity. Such gestures have been welcomed by semi-puzzled liberals, who have come to associate conservative politics during much of the pandemic with skepticism of vaccines and an embrace of conspiracy theories [1].

In the past month, a similar push for the acceptance of vaccines has been furthered in Russia. This seems to have been kicked off on June 30 with Vladimir Putin’s annual call-in show where he said he had received the Sputnik V vaccine. This added additional detail to quieter earlier disclosures that the Russian president had received a second shot in March. While promoting the safety of domestic Russian vaccines, Putin continued to stoke fears in Western vaccines, saying: “thank God we haven’t had tragic situations after vaccinations like after the use of AstraZeneca or Pfizer.”  [2]

Putin’s patriotic vaccine statements seemed to form a cue for senior clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to come out publicly in favor of vaccination with domestic vaccines, using many of the tropes of conservative conspiracy theory. This vaccine promotion is interesting because these figures have themselves often been associated with national ideology, conspiracy theories, and disinformation – and even rumors of involvement with the FSB.  Their approach may offer some constructive lessons in how conspiratorial language can be repurposed to promote vaccine adoption. But it also raises more questions about the state of disinformation in Russia and its effects abroad.

Holy men Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Vladimir Putin, and Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov)

Continue reading “The ROC’s Pro-Vaccination Conspiracy Theories”

Russian Origins of the Vaccine Microchip Conspiracy Theory

I recently read an article which suggested that the conspiracy theory that vaccines contain microchips emerged following a March 18, 2020 Reddit AMA with Bill Gates [1]. In response to the AMA, biohackers began to write positively about the potential for chip-based medical devices to combat epidemics and deliver vaccines.

Within several days of the Reddit AMA, a Baptist pastor from Jacksonville Florida named Adam Fannin – known best for his anti-Semitic conflicts with comedian Sarah Silverman in 2019 – found one of these biohacking blog posts online. Fannin then developed it into his own interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy largely based on his “deep distrust of Gates”. Fannin made a 9-minute YouTube sermon which went viral and accumulated nearly 2 million views before it was taken down.  “The pastor titled the post, “Bill Gates – Microchip Vaccine Implants to fight Coronavirus,” adding one pivotal word to the biohackers’ title: vaccine.”[1]

Looking more deeply into the origin of the vaccines and microchips story, I think it is important to observe how it may emerge from and complement Russian Orthodox nationalist geopolitics and information warfare. Continue reading “Russian Origins of the Vaccine Microchip Conspiracy Theory”

Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” helped a Russian information strategy

Last evening, I attended a virtual lecture on disinformation in which the claim was made that the Russians were responsible for the narrative that the US government created the 1990’s crack epidemic in Los Angeles.

In discussion of the topic however, the presenter did not provide the source for the claim, but related it to the well-known case of Operation Infektion or Denver, in which the KGB had created disinformation that the US had begun the AIDS epidemic as a biological warfare program targeting Black people.

While I had previously researched a hunch that the claim of CIA involvement in the crack cocaine epidemic was Russian disinformation, I was unable to find a Russian source; forcing me to leave it in the ‘unverified’ column. The best I could find was that such claims officially started with American journalist and author Gary Webb, best remembered for his “Dark Alliance” article series (1996) and book (1998).

Duped on Dope: Gary Webb (1955-2004)

Riding partly on the lingering antiwar buzz of the Iran-Contra scandal, Webb claimed that CIA involvement in the drug trade stemmed from its cooperation with Nicaraguan Contra fighters seeking to overturn the (Soviet-instilled and KGB-linked Sandinista) government of Nicaragua. (Official retrospective investigations revealed some of these resistance fighters backed by the CIA were involved in drug smuggling activities; but not at the scale which has been alleged by Webb.)

Despite my suspicions about Webb, since I hadn’t ‘cracked the crack story’ as Russian disinformation, I’ve looked into Webb on this blog only so much in the case of his close collaboration with the independent journalist Kristina Borjesson who has been responsible for building a conspiratorial case that the 1996 TWA Flight 800 disaster over Long Island Sound was the result of a missile shootdown – possibly by the US Navy – and was covered up by the FBI.

My conclusions from that research into the 1996 TWA conspiracy theories were that they were more plausibly linked to an Iranian disinformation campaign in retaliation for the 1988 US Navy shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 in Iranian territorial waters – than that of a Russian one.

However, there was also some evidence that (much like the Nicaragua Sandinistas,) the terrorist groups implicated in previous Iranian retaliatory actions for the 1988 accident (such as the PFLP-GC) had strong linkages to the legacy of the KGB. Continue reading “Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” helped a Russian information strategy”

Does “BTK” mean “Billy the Kid”?

Is there a cultural connection to Wichita KS which caused Dennis Rader to call himself “BTK”?

Henry McCarty, AKA William H. Bonny, AKA “Billy the Kid” was born in 1859 in New York City. In 1870, his family moved to Kansas, where his mother, Catherine McCarty signed the charter incorporating Wichita.

Catherine McCarty seems to have contracted tuberculosis over the next several years, and the family relocated to New Mexico territory. At age 14 or 15, Billy the Kid was orphaned after Catherine died of tuberculosis and his stepfather abandoned the family.

By age 21 in 1881, he’d be dead, but not before securing one of the most legendary reputations in the outlaw history of the American West. It seems that McCarty intentionally cultivated his own outlaw legend, claiming 21 murders: “one for every year of his life”; but experts seem to think the total was really 9.

Compare with Dennis Rader, AKA the “Bind Torture Kill”, or “BTK Killer”, who grew up in Wichita Kansas. Continue reading “Does “BTK” mean “Billy the Kid”?”

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Acknowledging the KGB’s Enemy #1

While promoting his new book “The Sword and the Shield : The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB” on the Charlie Rose show on September 28, 1999, the eminent Cold War historian Christopher Andrew said of the KGB that:

“they really hated J. Edgar Hoover, but the man they hated above all others was Martin Luther King. And the reason they hated him above all others is that their plan for the United States – they were really looking forward to it – was that the ‘long, and hot summers’ of the mid and late 1960’s would lead to race war in the United States. And the reason they hated Martin Luther King like they hated no other American, was that they feared he might put an end to the long, hot summers. So, when he dies in 1968, it’s a terrible thing to say – but it was a great day for the people at KGB Headquarters.”

Friends. Jimmy Hoffa, James Del Rio, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Professor Andrew’s televised comments on Dr. King came just 12 days after the end of the so-called campaign of terror known as the “Russian apartment bombings” which was a decisive moment that catapulted former KGB agent and then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the Presidency of Russia.

Not even Professor Andrew could have realized at that time how KGB active measures would live on and remain much the same under Putin as they had in the time of the Cold War.

In the wake of 2020’s racial tensions which seem to have been exacerbated by Russia’s online information warfare activities on both the political far left and far right; it is time for us to awake to Dr. King’s “Dream” and the power it has to unite rather than divide us as a society in the face of Russian disinformation and active measures. Continue reading “Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Acknowledging the KGB’s Enemy #1”