by Bethany Elliott
Wednesday, 10
May 2023

Yevgeny Prigozhin sows division in the Kremlin

The Wagner boss finds himself at odds with Russia's defence establishment
by Bethany Elliott
Yevgeny Prigozhin has used his large online profile to attack the Ministry of Defence

While Russia’s military was being honoured — albeit modestly — in yesterday’s Victory Day celebrations in Moscow, it was being dishonoured from Bakhmut. Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that troops had been fleeing the city and branded commanders as “criminal” and “stupid”, insinuating they were “betraying the motherland” by depriving his mercenary forces of ammunition. 

This is not the first time that Russia’s defence chiefs have attracted the ire of Prigozhin, whose group is set to be classed by the UK as a terrorist organisation, in recent days. On Friday, in an expletive-laden rant, he was filmed surrounded by the corpses of Wagner fighters, demanding more ammunition from Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in

Launching an exceptionally personal attack, Prigozhin claimed that his men are dying while those in command are “sitting in expensive clubs” and their children are “filming YouTube videos” — a reference to Shoigu’s son-in-law, the fitness blogger Alexey Stolyarov.

Prigozhin’s complaint boils down to his repeated assertion that the defence establishment, jealous of Wagner’s success, has intentionally deprived his men of ammunition, thus increasing the group’s losses on the battlefield. Prigozhin has a history of publicly castigating the Ministry of Defence until he receives more ammunition and on Sunday, upon receiving a promise of more weaponry, seemingly walked back from his earlier threat to withdraw his forces from Bakhmut by 10th May.

While this explanation provides him with a convenient excuse as to why he has been unable to seize Bakhmut after nearly ten months and the loss of thousands of men, Prigozhin’s claims may have some basis in reality. Leaked US intelligence documents state that, back in February, officers from Russia’s security service, the FSB, were not fulfilling Wagner’s ammunition requests in full. What’s more, they detail that “Prigozhin’s claims could be legitimate” and that Gerasimov reportedly ordered munitions supplies to Wagner headquarters be halted. 

Those leaked documents also note that Vladimir Putin has at times intervened to calm tensions between Prigozhin and the Defence Ministry or to pick sides in specific disputes, demonstrating that Russia’s commander-in-chief could end this feuding whenever he wanted. The fact he does not suggests it works in Putin’s favour. 

One explanation is that Prigozhin provides a convenient proxy to shift blame for Russia’s battlefield failures away from the President and onto the generals. Another possibility is that such feuding assists Putin by preventing any one faction from growing too powerful. 

However, Prigozhin has undeniably been generating negative publicity for the Russian military, drawing attention to its faltering battlefield efforts. Rob Lee, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told the Washington Post that having competing factions “is very damaging in a military operation”, creating a “unity of command problem”. 

Prigozhin’s interests are not necessarily in line with Russia’s, on or off the battlefield. Attacking the defence leadership plays well with his online base, fuelling his political ambitions. Meanwhile, he has been focusing on taking Bakhmut, yet the MoD has responsibility for the entire frontline and has most likely been trying to conserve weaponry before the coming Ukrainian counteroffensive.

He now also seems to be actively interfering in the Ministry. While Gerasimov has met with nothing but criticism from the Wagner boss, Prigozhin reserves unusual warmth for General Sergei Surovikin, who he describes as “the only general in the Russian army capable of fighting”, and who has now been assigned as an intermediary between Wagner and the military.

In January Surovikin was replaced by Gerasimov as the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine. While Surovikin has thus far remained silent on his feelings at being demoted, Prigozhin’s statements suggest he may be using his online platform to exacerbate a potential rivalry between Gerasimov and Surovikin within Russia’s military command. 

Additionally, on 5th May Prigozhin posted a video fuelling rumours that Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev was last month removed from his post as Deputy Defence Minister for supplying Wagner with ammunition. Last week it was revealed that Prigozhin had hired Mizintsev as a Wagner deputy commander, with a Telegram channel associated with the group saying he was “obviously not the last general who was out of place” in the MoD.  It thus appears that Wagner is establishing itself as a home for disgruntled ex-officers eager to defect. 

At times the mercenary boss seems to consider his true enemy not to be the Ukrainian army but, rather, the Russian Ministry of Defence. Now, as commanders defect to Wagner and he plays favourites in Russia’s defence establishment, Prigozhin is clearly going on the offensive.  

Join the discussion

To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Notify of
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
24 days ago

He has political ambitions of his own. A lot of this is posturing for that purpose

Arthur G
Arthur G
24 days ago

If Russia suffers another significant defeat, it could lead to an internal power struggle and possibly a new Gov’t. I wonder who has more loyal troops. Putin? Prigozhin? Shoigu? Gerasimov? Surovikin? Whichever one does may end up as President.

martin logan
martin logan
22 days ago

This is just the opening round of the impending civil war in Russia.
Putin’s abortive attempt to recreate the Russian Empire is collapsing. Soon the Tsar himself will fade into history.
And, just as in 1917, once the Idea of Empire collapses, all bets in Russia are off.
It’s every man–and every idea–for himself.

B Timothy
B Timothy
24 days ago

Perhaps they are being deprived of ammunition because it’s not intended for any of the prison convict mercenaries to come back from Ukraine.

I believe Fidel Castro used the expression “we are flushing the toilet on them” to describe a similar strategy.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
23 days ago

If Prigozhin is ambitious, and a mercenary, maybe he too can be bought. The Russian army would struggle with a Ukranian offensive combined with a Wagner betrayal..maybe with the assistance of Surovikin or other disenchanted elements of the regular armed forces. If we really wanted to get Machiavellian here, perhaps some of the funds and support going to Ukraine could be used elsewhere to greater effect.
Implausible of course, but just thinking out loud.

Last edited 23 days ago by Seb Dakin
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
24 days ago

Better article that today’s Telegraph ‘Hamish de Bretton-Gordon’ usual gushing love letter to Zalenski.

To me this is likely one of two things. One is the passion engendered by war – how could one keep a cool head as the actual Field Commander? (I guess thinking back to Kitchener and WWI’s General’s disinterested view of causalities, one can see it possible – but Russians are a passionate people)

But I think most likely is 5th generation warfare, where every word and deed has to be viewed as probably being done for some ulterior motive. Kinetic fighting now is less important than the ‘Information’ warfare being fought in the West on the MSM, Social Media, Entertainment, and Government, Industry, Financial, back-room Cabal; envelopes passed under the desk, bulging with the 10%, and the Political Hirings and their devious moves and words….

This war is 100% political in that the West is using this conflict which has no interest of theirs to proxy terraforming the Global Political and Economic landscape into some future nightmare.

All lose in this war; but for the Cabals getting their 10%, Blackrock, and the Globalist Masters and their un-guessable motives. (but we do know it is very Bad for us whatever the outcome. This is not a war of freedom and Democracy – it is war to continue the destruction of the Western Society, as was the plandemic)

martin logan
martin logan
22 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The West cruelly and deliberately instilled a desire among Ukrainians for a better life, free from criminal regimes like Putin’s and Yanukovich’s.
The poor Ukrainians foolishly fell for phony concepts like Rule of Law and Democracy.
Once those Twin Evils get abroad, they spread nothing but death and destruction, as witness the last few decades of the EU.
So, pls give generously to Putin’s attempt to save western civilization from itself.
His fight is your fight…