As the war in Ukraine continues to ravage the region, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the bombastic chief of the paramilitary Wagner group, has taken centre stage in exposing the power struggle within Russia's military leadership. In a recent outburst, Prigozhin not only criticised Russian commanders as "stupid" and accountable for "criminal orders," but he also questioned the military's ability to defend Russian territory effectively.
The Wagner Mercenary's Fight Against Putin
Frustrated by the slow delivery of ammunition, Prigozhin went as far as filming himself alongside the bodies of fallen Wagner fighters, directing his tirade at Russia's defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, and its chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov.
Surprisingly, Prigozhin indirectly targeted Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, referring to him as the "happy grandfather" who believed the war in Ukraine was proceeding smoothly. He provocatively suggested that all may not be well as he thinks, an NDTV report stated.
Infighting in plain sight: A global soap opera
The ongoing infighting between Wagner and Russia's military has turned into a captivating soap opera watched by a global audience. In the latest episode, an article in the Washington Post claimed that Prigozhin had made contact with Ukrainian military intelligence on multiple occasions, citing the Discord Leaks.
According to the report, Prigozhin allegedly offered to provide information about the positions of Russian forces in exchange for the Ukrainian military's withdrawal from the city of Bakhmut, where Wagner fighters have been engaged in battle with Ukrainian forces for months.
If the Kremlin embraces this narrative, Prigozhin could find himself in serious trouble. However, the deployment of compromising material and misinformation is a common tactic in Eurasian politics. While tensions often escalate among Russia's competing elites, Putin has previously shown the ability to rein them in.
Nonetheless, the fact that Putin seems unable or unwilling to control Prigozhin indicates a potential weakening of his grip over the Kremlin's domains. As Putin deliberately positions himself at the core of the Russian state with no apparent successor, his waning control raises serious questions about the future of his regime.
Understanding the motives behind Wagner's fight against Putin
Authoritarian governments employ various methods to control their populations, primarily through instilling fear of both the state and external/internal "enemies," which can only be countered by strong leadership.
Additionally, these governments rely on narratives of success, capitalizing on tales of triumph against foreign or domestic adversaries. Putin's Russia has followed this pattern, often stretching credibility to claim significant victories over its perceived Western foes.
However, when failures mount, the need to assign blame becomes imperative, deflecting responsibility away from the leader. The ongoing blame game between Russia's armed forces and Wagner is a manifestation of this dynamic.
The outcome of this blame game depends largely on the relative influence within.