The brutal internships between the Wagner Group and the Russian Army are already spilling over Ukraine and reaching the Kremlin

The head of the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin (Prigozhin Press Service via AP, File) (Uncredited /)

The video was shocking, not only for what it showed, but also for what was said.

Yevgeny Prigozhinthe millionaire and maverick director of the Russian private military contractor wagner groupstood before the bloody corpses of his fallen soldiers in Ukraine, yelled expletive-laced insults at Russian military leaders and blamed them for the carnage.

They came here as volunteers and died to lay them to rest in your redwood offices.”Prigozhin shouted. “They are sitting in their expensive clubs, their children are enjoying the good life and making videos on YouTube. Those who don’t give us ammunition will be eaten alive in hell!” he said.

It was an unsettling display for Russians used to more than two decades of a government rigidly controlled by President Vladimir Putin: years with little sign of infighting among his top lieutenants.

Members of the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group wave a flag of Russia and the Wagner Group over a damaged building in Bakhmut, Ukraine (Prigozhin Press Service via AP, File)
Members of the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group wave a flag of Russia and the Wagner Group over a damaged building in Bakhmut, Ukraine (Prigozhin Press Service via AP, File) (Uncredited/)

Prigozhin’s video released in May and his other tirades against the Russian military leadership have been met with silence from Putin, as have the top brass. Some see Putin’s failure to quell the infighting as a sign of potential changes in Russia’s political scene and perhaps more infighting.

State-controlled television — the source of most Russian news — has also ignored Prigozhin’s break with the military. Yet she is closely followed by politically active and ultra-patriotic readers and viewers on social media, who share her contempt for military leaders.

While there are no signs that Putin is losing influence“there are increasing signs of profound dysfunction, anxiety, worry for the war and real problems to muster the necessary resources to fight effectively,” says Nigel Gould-Davies, Senior Research Fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and editor of its publication Strategic Survey.

File - Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov (Mikhail Kuravlev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool photo via AP, File)
File – Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Chief of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov (Mikhail Kuravlev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool photo via AP, File) (Mikhail Kuravlev/)

The discord between Prigozhin and Russian military leaders dates back several years.. It came to light in the midst of fighting for the city of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, led by his mercenaries. He has brought the 62-year-old owner of the Wagner Group — nicknamed “Putin’s chef” for his lucrative Kremlin catering contracts — to the forefront of Russian politics and signaled his growing ambitions.

He scathingly criticized Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov as weak and incompetent in mocking remarks filled with vulgar language. At one point, he even claimed that the army laid mines on a route his fighters planned to use and opened fire on them.

With his remarks laden with big words, Prigozhin ventured to do what only Putin had done before: Over the years, the Russian leader occasionally broke decorum with an earthy remark or off-color joke, while senior officials used carefully worded language.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) talks with Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov (left) as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (Mikhail Kuravlev, Sputnik, photo by Kremlin Pool via PA, File)
FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) talks with Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov (left) as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (Mikhail Kuravlev, Sputnik, photo by Kremlin Pool via AP, File) (Mikhail Klimentyev/)

In a subsequent video, Prigozhin made a statement that some have interpreted as a barely covert attack on Putin himself. He stated that while his men were dying due to the Ministry of Defense’s inability to supply ammunition, a “happy grandfather thinks he is doing well”, and then he referred to that “grandfatherwith an obscenity.

The blunt comment caused a stir on social media, where it was widely seen as a reference to Putin. Prigozhin later assured that he was talking about Gerasimov.

“Prigozhin is now saying much riskier things than ever before,” Gould-Davies added to the agency. PA.

Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political commentator, described Prigozhin as “the second most popular man after Putin” and a “symbol of Russia’s military victory for millions of people.”

Putin needs Prigozhin’s mercenaries as the regular army is still reeling from earlier setbacks in the invasion. The position of the head of the Wagner Group was bolstered after the private army captured Bakhmut last month in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war, using tens of thousands of convicted prisoners who were promised clemency. if they survived six months of fighting.

Prigozhin in Bakhmut (Reuters)
Prigozhin in Bakhmut (Reuters) (PRESS SERVICE OF “CONCORD/)

“Putin dominates the system, but he is still dependent on a small number of important people to implement his will, to provide him with the resources to do his bidding, including fighting the war,” Gould-Davies told the PA.

While Putin may adhere to keeping various factions divided and then intervene to “decide who wins and who loses, and who is up and who is down”, the process erodes the authority of the government in times of war, adds Gould-Davies.

That may be one way to keep the political system going.But it’s certainly not the way to fight war, because if your military forces are divided and if you don’t fight together effectively, then your military operations will suffer accordingly and that’s exactly what’s happening here.”

Mark Galeotti, a London-based expert on Russian politics and security, notes that infighting continues even as Ukraine is in the early stages of its highly anticipated counter-offensive, “a point where really everyone should have a single common goal”.

During a recent podcast, he surmised that Putin’s failure to settle political disputes could be due to a lack of interest, a focus on other issues, or, more likely, a reluctance to take sides.

“It also raises questions about your overall ability to do your job,” Galeotti warns. “This is the one thing, the one job that you really can’t outsource, and you’re not even trying to (do it)”.

The lack of response from military leaders to Prigozhin’s insults seemed to indicate that they were not sure if Putin was on their side.

St. Petersburg regional governor Alexander Beglov was another recent target of Prigozhin, following their long-standing conflict over Beglov’s reluctance to award lucrative contracts to Prigozhin’s companies. Like the military leaders, Beglov has not responded.

Prigozhin has allied himself with other officials who support the war, including reportedly Tula Governor Alexei Dyumin, a former Putin bodyguard considered by many to be his possible successor. The head of the Wagner Group also gravitated for some time to Ramzan Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed leader of Russia’s southern province of Chechnya. While denouncing most senior military leaders, Prigozhin spoke favorably of General Sergei Surovikin, who led Russian forces in Ukraine for several months before Putin appointed Gerasimov to oversee operations.

But some of those alliances have been unstable.

While Kadyrov initially praised Prigozhin and endorsed some of his criticism of military leaders, he later reversed course, criticizing him for sounding defeatist. Kadyrov’s lieutenants went further, criticizing the Wagner Group’s efforts on Bakhmut after Prigozhin made disparaging comments about Chechen fighters in Ukraine. Magomed Daudov, Kadyrov’s right-hand man, bluntly said that Prigozhin would have been executed for such statements had he made them during World War II.

Prigozhin quickly backtracked, saying he was only expressing concern about Russian operations.

Prigozhin has evaded questions about his ambitions, but in a move that reflected his desire to gain political influence, he recently toured Russia and followed up with a deluge of outraged comments.

“There are signs that he is looking for some kind of political future,” Gould-Davies observes.

Although Prigozhin owes his position and wealth to Putin, he plays a somewhat independent role criticizing some leaders and trying to appeal to the masses amid setbacks in Ukraine, says Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. International Peace).

“He is posing as an enemy of the elites, even though he is a product of Putin’s system, the embodiment of his regime and state contracts,” Kolesnikov adds. “Prigozhin is playing an independent politician, raising the stakes and testing the limits of the system. But that will only be technically and physically possible as long as Putin finds it useful and is amused by its antics.”

In a show of support for the armed forces, Putin backed the Defense Ministry’s demand that all private companies sign contracts with him, something Prigozhin has refused to do.

And in another sign that Putin’s government may finally be downplaying Prigozhin’s importance, Kremlin-connected messaging app channels showed photos of his children at parties, including a daughter in Dubai, in apparent retaliation for Prigozhin’s attacks. the daughter of the Defense Minister.

Prigozhin has called for an all-out war in Ukraine, including full national mobilization and the introduction of martial law in Russia, calls welcomed by some who support the war.

But Kolesnikov points out that the vast majority of Russians, who are mostly apathetic or unwilling to make bigger sacrifices, might be scared and dismayed by that message.

He warns against overestimating Prigozhin’s influence and political prospects and against underestimating Putin’s authority.

“It is enough for the commander in chief to move his finger to make the head of (the Group) Wagner disappear,” warns Kolesnikov.

(With information from AP)

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