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Russia’s military chiefs go to war … with each other

Russia’s military chiefs go to war … with each other

by host

An increasingly bitter quarrel between Russia’s top generals and Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the mercenary Wagner Group, looks like it is coming to a head after the paramilitary boss accused the country’s defense ministry of “treason” by intentionally withholding munitions from his fighters in Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has allowed the rise to prominence of outspoken mavericks like Prigozhin — who takes many of his recruits from jails — and Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, exposing jostling rivalries between Russian commanders that could ultimately pose a threat to the Kremlin. Wagner Group has been leading the monthslong assault on the town of Bakhmut, where its forces have gained infamy for their suicidal “meat wave” attacks that the Ukrainians claim are resulting in extremely heavy Russian losses.

Moscow’s defense ministry has denounced as “absolutely false” Prigozhin’s claim that it has been keeping back ammunition from his fighters. “All requests for ammunition for assault units are met as soon as possible,” it said. While praising the “courage” of Russian “volunteers” in Ukraine it slammed efforts to sow divisions, which are “counterproductive and which only play in favor of the enemy.”

In a seven-minute audio message posted online Monday, Prigozhin lambasted Russia’s military high-brass saying he had been required to “apologize and obey” in efforts to secure supplies for his men. “I’m unable to solve this problem despite all my connections and contacts,” he fumed. He blamed the shortage of ammunition on people who were “eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner off golden plates.” 

“There is quite simply direct obstruction going on,” Prigozhin said in his audio statement. “This can be equated with high treason,” he said. His fighters were “dying en masse” as result, he added.

Last week Prigozhin made a similar claim about “ammunition hunger” and posted a video of a stack of corpses to underline his point about the shortage of ammunition. He also decried Russia’s generals for failing to cut Ukrainian supply lines, making it harder for his men to seize Bakhmut in Donetsk, complaining that it would likely now take months to capture the town because of Moscow’s “monstrous bureaucracy.” 

Prigozhin’s Wagner Group is claiming that its fighters have not been receiving the credit they deserve. He had a furious spat last month with Russia’s generals over who was responsible for seizing Ukraine’s salt-mining town of Soledar — his men or regular Russian troops. 

His seeking of the limelight and his constant denouncing of Russia’s top commanders for mismanaging the war has added to the personality politics splintering the Russian war effort — and the top generals appear to have tired of it, fearing Prigozhin is disrupting their efforts to improve battlefield coordination of their forces.

Earlier this month, Russia’s political-military bloggers were instructed by General Valery Gerasimov, the former chief of the General Staff and now Russia’s overall commander in Ukraine, to reduce their coverage of Wagner. 

And noticeably in recent days some of the top bloggers, such as Rybar, have appeared to do so.

Prigozhin has also been blocked from recruiting any more fighters from Russian prisons and there has been mounting talk that the Wagner Group in Ukraine will be put under the command of the National Guard and moved away from the defense ministry, essentially a demotion.   

Efforts by the top brass to sideline Prigozhin’s Wagner Group appear to be increasing, according to analyst Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik. She says Prigozhin has become politically vulnerable, and his star is dimming with the recent reshuffle at the top of Russia’s military. She noted that Gerasimov’s transfer to Ukraine has “drastically reduced Wagner’s autonomy and seriously changed Prigozhin’s relationship with state agencies.”

She believes the publication of Monday’s audio statement accusing the defense ministry of treason is “an act of desperation” and “an attempt to reach Putin through publicity.”

It is not clear, however, how the Russian president will react.

“These disagreements likely infuriate him,” Stanovaya said.

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