– Boss Wagner openly takes on the military leadership and Putin
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner’s mercenaries, is engaged in a strange battle with the Russian Ministry of Defense. What is behind these attacks?
Persivka is a village of about 120 people, but many of them may not be there. A fierce fight for neighboring Bagmut. Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has now announced that his Wagner Group has captured this eastern Ukrainian village. In doing so, Prigozhin delivered a small military victory, presumably because he attributed it primarily to the Russian Ministry of Defense. And with that he takes on his own, very strange fight.
Prigozhin and his personal mercenaries are brutally involved in Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, competing with the official military. On Wednesday, Prigozhin posted a photo of dozens of bodies lying on the frozen ground. They were his fighters, he explained, and they died of “starvation for ammunition.”
Those who clarified the question “how do we get enough ammunition” are guilty. The mercenary boss had earlier asked the defense ministry for ammunition for his frontline fighters every day for a week. He went so far as to accuse Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov of treason. On Thursday, Prigozhin’s news service confirmed that the necessary ammunition had finally been brought in and unloaded at 6am.
Is Private Army Commander Wagner a Threat to the Regular Army?
According to such reports, ordinary Russians do not have to wait long for their arrest, but Prigozhin has long enjoyed unofficial special status. President Vladimir Putin allowed him to stay in Ukraine, after several setbacks by the Russian military prompted him to do so. Prigozhin was allowed to recruit thousands of Russian prisoners, although the practice was recently announced to have ended. But the power struggle with the Russian military leadership should be even more interesting.
The ministry itself initially responded with restraint to the ammunition debate and spoke of “elevated reports of alleged blocking of ammunition to volunteer assault units”. Wagner’s mercenaries are not even named. The Ministry of Defense criticized the split efforts as playing into the enemy’s hands.
The relationship can end quickly and without warning
Prigozhin, who has been strengthening Russia’s influence in Mali, Central Africa and Libya, sometimes licensed to exploit raw materials, is considered a confidant of Kremlin leader Putin. Above all, his confidant is Defense Minister Shoigu, who has vacationed with Putin several times. Prigozhin’s massive attack on Putin’s favorite minister means that criticism of military failures is deliberately deflected from Putin in this way. After all, Putin himself is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and responsible for the state of the military.
Russian political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya writes in an article in the Moscow Times that Shoigu and Gerasimov convinced Putin that Prigozhin was a threat to the military. Putin put Gerasimo in charge of the war in Ukraine in January. And this, despite everything Prigozhin had ever dared to do, Stanovaya says: “His relationship with the state was informal and weak. And it ends without warning.”