On May 9, the head of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, made another harsh video with the leadership’s “congratulations” to the Ministry of Defense and a solemn appeal to the Russians. Among other things, directly at the artillery positions of his mercenaries, Prigozhin uttered the soon-to-be-cited statements about the “happy grandfather”. It is the “grandfather” of the Russian elite that has been calling Vladimir Putin for years.
“They are killing our soldiers. And the happy grandfather thinks he is doing well. And what should the country do next? If he turns out to be right – God bless everyone. But what is the country to do? What should our children, our grandchildren do? The future of Russia? And how to win the war? If by chance, I’m only assuming, it will turn out that the grandfather is a complete idiot?” says Prigozhin. The Russian word “mudak” can also be translated with harsher expressions.
Novaya Gazeta Europe in a detailed article, he quotes Prigozhin’s statements and, with the help of experts, places them in the wider context of what is happening not only on the Ukrainian battlefield, but also in Russia itself.
Yes, on May 10, the Wagners still had not received the required ammunition. Prigozhin, instead of fulfilling his threatening promise and starting to withdraw his fighters from the positions near Bakhmut, continues to take the position of being offended and talks about how the treacherous leadership of the Ministry of Defense is still not supplying him with the necessary ammunition. At the same time, Prigozhin describes the terrible consequences of escaping from positions. His ideas are bizarrely convoluted in places, but the overall idea is clear:
“Who actually betrays the homeland? A Department of Defense unit escaped from one wing of Group Wagner. They all abandoned their positions, fled, revealing a front nearly two kilometers wide and 500 meters deep… The 72nd Brigade today lost three square kilometers, on which I have about 500 dead. Because it was a strategic bridgehead,” says Prigozhin.
He further claims that the Chief of the General Staff personally reduced the amount of ammunition issued to the Wagnerites tenfold. He predicted the early start of the Ukrainian counter-offensive. He praised Army General Sergei Surovikin, who was assigned to him for contacts with the General Staff. He called the Ministry of Defense the Ministry of Intrigue. He promised not to leave his positions in Artemivsk (as Russian media call Bakhmut). He congratulated the followers of his channel on Victory Day and offered not to show off on Red Square.
The Ministry of Defense does not respond to Prigozhin. Another exotic head of the armed forces, the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, spoke up, and in a kind and threatening manner admonishes the head of the private army. Others speculate that Prigozhon’s speech may be a ploy to deceive the Ukrainian military. Journalist and war correspondent Yulia Latynina suggested in an interview that the munitions rift was a clumsy trap by the Russian command. “I am convinced that the Ukrainian General Staff should seriously consider the version that Prigozhin is messing with the Ukrainian army. When he says that he will withdraw on May 10, he is doing it so that the Ukrainian army can strike there – the suddenly collapsed front.”
Yulia Latynina is convinced that Prigozhin’s task is to attract the votes of angry patriots in the upcoming presidential election. “When an army is defeated, the search for a traitor begins,” he says. “They have to be led by someone who is in control. This is the idea of Putin’s political strategists, probably Kiriyenko (first deputy head of the presidential administration).”
Military columnist Michael Nucky agrees that the hypothesis of an attempt at disinformation by the AFU by Prigozhin makes sense. He said on his blog: “There is a theory that this is all just a big show, needed to sow a feeling in the Ukrainian ranks that a counter-offensive will be too easy for them. So Prigozhin and the Russian authorities want Ukraine to think that things are bad enough with the Wagnerites in Bachmut and to send the main force there to strike. Some other observers think it’s all comedy.’
Political scientist Abbas Galljamov sees it even differently. Putin has already ordered Wagner’s group to be stocked with ammunition, and then we keep hearing complaints of continued “ammo starvation.” According to Galljamov, many people get the impression that the president took on the problem and failed to solve it. Putin’s demonstrative inability to solve the case and not prevent it from becoming public has a significant impact on the authorities as well. This leads to a weakening of Putin’s influence over the security and law enforcement agencies. The influence of Shoigu and Gerasimov, which is already waning, will drop sharply. “In the military, everything is based on the command and authority of one man. There should be no doubt that one cannot disobey one’s superior. And here some bald-headed criminal humiliates and blackmails the commander in front of the entire armed forces.”
Prigozhin set a bad example. If you scandalize and threaten, you will get bullets. Those who remain silent will get nothing. Discipline is weakening and this is very dangerous for a country at war. According to Abbas Galljam, revolutions grow out of precisely such situations when people at the top of power are no longer able to fulfill their functions.
According to Galliamov, Yevgeny Prigozhin does not know much about politics. An experienced person would not create so many conflicts. He completely pitted the elites against each other and made an unforgivable amount of mistakes. Finally he found himself surrounded by united enemies. Now the boss of the mercenaries will have to twist very masterfully to get out of this situation without significant losses.
According to political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky, there is no vertical power structure in Russia. It is a propaganda myth. A network was built, not a hierarchical structure. Power is created anywhere in the space where big money connects with any source of power. Therefore, Prigozhin and Kadyrov are the same power centers as Shoigu and Gerasimov combined. Even stronger because they are independent of the federal bureaucracy in their decision-making.
Last year, on the basis of a joint statement by Prigozhin and Kadyrov, General Alexander Lapin was dismissed from the post of commander of one of the Russian groups in Ukraine. Journalists and bloggers have begun to claim that Putin is listening to criticism that may be aimed at removing Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
“Prigozhin, who has been communicating with Putin for many years, knows very well that the president is a person of an epileptoid psychological type and never makes any decisions under pressure, let alone publicly,” Stanislav Belkovskiy claims. “This means that the call to recall Shoigu and Gerasimov will have the opposite effect. They won’t be recalled, at least not anytime soon. In my personal opinion, Yevgeny Viktorovich wanted to trivially withdraw from the Ukrainian front, because the situation is approaching the point where he will have to answer for the dubious results of the special operation Z. He has already publicly questioned the vagueness of the goals of this very operation.”
One gets the impression that Prigozhin already senses the defeat of Russia in the entire campaign. The reckoning begins and the search for those responsible for the military defeat begins. “Prigozhin’s opponents, who are not complete idiots, are well aware that Yevgeny Viktorovich is about to sneak away. However, they don’t want to let him go and explain that those who invented it should be held responsible for the consequences of the ‘Bachmut meat grinder,'” says the political scientist. Perhaps Prigozhin escalated the conflict on purpose to have an excuse to leave. But his extremely insulted opponent, Shoigu, is not going to let him leave or supply him with ammunition.
In addition, the specter of the expected Ukrainian counter-offensive hovers over all this. Belkovsky believes that Kiev should strike as quickly as possible where it can achieve the greatest success.
“It is clear that it is very difficult to recapture the entire territory occupied by Russia,” says Belkovsky, “but it is quite realistic to recapture the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. That is probably why there is an evacuation and preparation for an assault. The second option, an attack on Transnistria, the capture of Tiraspol and its transfer to Moldavian control, is seemingly fantastic, but from a military and pragmatic point of view it is completely realistic. So far, we see how the Russian commanders play on each other’s nerves. However, it is clear that fatigue is growing in the Ukrainians, and the start of the offensive cannot be delayed for too long. It is necessary to achieve a breakthrough success that will be appreciated not only by the Ukrainian people, but also by the international community,” states the expert.
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