A almost a year after the invasion began From Russia, Ukraine is still the scene of a fierce fight in all the country. These days, the efforts of putin They are placed in the east, where the troops seek to gain control of bastions, in what would be their first win in six months.
However, a parallel battle is unfolding at the highest levels of military power in Moscow, which has led Putin to reshuffle his top generals as rival factions try to play favorites.
This same week, the fight in solder Y Bakhmut provoked a rupture between the leaders of the Ministry of Defence Russian and Yevgeny Prigozhina rogue billionaire whose private military defense – the famous wagner group– has gained relevance in the war.
The reorganization that Putin ordered of the military high command just days ago was interpreted as an attempt to demonstrate that the Ministry of Defense still has the support of the president and that he is in chargealmost 11 months after the start of the offensive.
Prigozhin has sought at all costs award a victory to his mercenaries. This Wednesday he was ahead of any other officer and assured that they had seized Soledar. However, the Ministry of Defense challenged this statement and alluded to the action of airlifting troops and the participation of other forces in battle. On Friday, finally, the taking of the city was attributed.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian army spokesman denied both statements and noted that the fighting in the streets of Soledar has not yet ended.
Prigozhin is a 61-year-old businessman whose closeness to the Kremlin dates back years. At first, he was known as “Putin’s chef” for his lucrative food service contracts and was later charged in 2016 in USA for interfere in the presidential elections.
In recent times, it has expanded its assets to include the Wagner Group and has also expanded into the mining sector, among others.
Since his involvement in the war, he has shown very critical of the high military commanders for the blunders on the battlefield and, on the contrary, highlighted Wagner’s superior efficiency.
Likewise, the businessman formed a strong alliance with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadryov, who deployed his elite troops in the southern region of Russia to face the fighting in Ukraine, in addition to joining the wave of criticism against the military high command. He even lashed out at the Kremlin, which he accused of having been too soft and indecisive in his war tactics.
Despite the fact that both have shown faithful to Putinthese public attacks are interpreted as constants provocations against the Kremlin monopolysomething the tightly controlled political system in the country had never experienced.
In this Wednesday’s announcement, the Defense portfolio ordered that the chief of the General Staff -General Valery Gerasimov– take over as the new head of the Russian forces in Ukraine, while the former top-ranking commander there – General Sergei Surovikin– He was limited to the position of Gerasimov’s assistant, just three months after taking office.
According to him Institute for the Study of War American, this reorganization was an attempt by the Kremlin to “reaffirm the primacy of the Russian Defense Ministry in the internal struggle for power in Russia”as well as to weaken the influence of their enemies and send a signal to Prigozhin and others that they should reduce their criticism -since in their attacks they have pointed to the new boss as the one responsible for the military defeats and praise the management of the recently dismissed-.
Among the criticisms, they have pointed to the withdrawal of Russian troops from kyiv during the first weeks of the war, in a failed attempt to seize the Ukrainian capital. Later, they attacked their hasty exit from the northeastern region of Khrakiv and Kherson, during the most intense stage of the swift counteroffensive by Volodimir Zelensky’s troops.
Surovikin was the one who led this latest withdrawal, which was the only regional center still under Russian rule. Also, he was the responsible for the Ukrainian missile attack which on January 1 caught up with dozens of Russian soldiers in the eastern city of Makiivka and caused a high number of casualties in their ranks. All this, He stained his image over and over again.
The political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya He explained, for his part, that the recent reorganization named by Putin constitutes another attempt to solve military problems by shaking the top.
“He tries to reorganize the pieces and, therefore, gives opportunities to those who he considers persuasive,” he mentioned while adding that “in reality, the problem is not with the people, but with the tasks.”
In that sense, he argued that Gerasimov could have asked for a “carte blanche in the heat of verbal battles, against the backdrop of some very intense discussions.” For Putin, “this is a maneuver, a fight between Surovikin – and his supporters, including Prigozhin – and Gerasimov.”
The new head of the Russian troops has been in the military sphere for years. His first tasks were performed as soviet army tank officerduring the decade of 1970and, later in 2012assumed as chief of staff. Also, it was seen at the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine sitting next to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at a table with Putin.
Viktor Alksnisa retired Soviet Air Force colonel who led failed attempts to preserve the USSR in 1991, said Gerasimov was already overseeing actions in Ukraine even before he was formally appointed to the post.
“This decision reflects the understanding of our political and military leadership that the special military operation failed and that none of its objectives were met in almost a year,” the former colonel said on his Telegram channel. “Replacing Surovikin with Gerasimov will not change anything,” he concluded.
This comment was replicated among other Russians who also criticized the decision and called for more warlike and tough policies to deal with in Ukraine.
Mark Galeottia specialist in Russian military and security affairs at University College London, made reference to the dangers to which the new chief is exposed since now will be directly responsible for any other possible failure.
“Gerasimov hangs by a thread. He needs a win or his career will end in ignominy. This may well suggest some kind of escalation, ”he warned on his Twitter account.
On the other hand, the analyst referred to the attrition that these frequent rotations can generate on the loyalty of the officer corps. “You’re not going to get loyalty by continuing to name, rotate, burn (relative) stars, set unrealistic expectations and arbitrarily demote them,” he said.
While all this is happening, however, Prigozhin has used all the military setbacks of the Russian troops to expand his influence and strengthen the image of the Russian army. wagner groupwhich he presents as a essential element of Putin’s fighting force against a regular army that has suffered hard wear.
To do this, he toured Russia’s extensive network of penal colonies to recruit prisoners who want to join his forces and fight in Ukraine in exchange for pardons.
However, far from being a voluntary action, it is public knowledge that behind these searches there is a threat of brutal punishments for whom it is desert or refuse to fight. Even a few weeks ago, a video was released showing a Group contractor being beaten to death with a sledgehammer after -allegedly- having defected to the Ukrainian side.
Added to this, Ukrainian officials have mentioned that in the recent fighting in Soledar and Bakhmut, there have been heavy losses of these mercenaries and those who are still standing have advanced “on the corpses of their own comrades.”
That is why many observers have concluded that giving Prigozhin a carte blanche to run Wagner under medieval style rules could lead to possible and dangerous agitation.
“In the end there is chaos and the spread of extrajudicial and illegal violence,” predicted Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Endowment.
(With information from AP)
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