LONDON (Reuters) – At the end of the Soviet Union, 61-year-old Evgeny Prigozhin spent a miserable life in prison for theft. Now, as the founder of Russia’s most powerful mercenary group, he is trying to get even closer to gaining more “favor” from President Putin by showcasing his military successes in Ukraine.
Troops from the private military company Wagner, led by Prigozhin, said they had captured Soledar, a northeastern suburb of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, where fierce fighting had continued. His intention is to capitalize on this military success.
According to Prigogine, the battle for Soledar was fought alone by Wagner. However, the Russian Defense Ministry initially claimed that the regular army was active. The Ministry of Defense officially announced the seizure of Soledal on the 13th and explained that the regular army’s airborne, missile and artillery units contributed to the victory.
Mr Prigogine accused the government of not giving Wagner the credit it deserved. “They are constantly trying to steal victories from Wagner, and they are talking about the existence of another unnamed group just to discredit Wagner,” he said.
The defense ministry has since issued a new statement to “clarify” the situation. He said part of the Soledar invasion force included “brave and self-sacrificing” Wagner fighters.
Some commentators predict that Prigozhin could one day become Russia’s defense minister as he rises to prominence. However, since Mr. Putin tends to use the political method of “divide and rule” by keeping his inner circles in check, it is difficult to know how much influence Mr. Prigozhin has over Mr. Putin. I don’t know where.
Mr. Putin’s most powerful supporters, some of whom have direct ties to Mr. Putin, say Mr. Prigozhin is performing admirably in comparison to the mediocre results of the regular army.
Former Russian presidential adviser Sergei Markov, who has praised Prigozhin as a “new hero,” said: “Prigozin has his flaws, but I don’t want to mention them because Prigozhin and Wagner are now Russia’s top critics. They are a symbol of victory because they are national treasures,” he wrote on his blog, suggesting that the government should allocate more resources to Wagner.
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state-run media RT and a close associate of the president, also thanked Prigozin for the suppression of Soledar.
Abbas Galiamov, a former presidential speechwriter, said on his blog that Prigozhin was acting in anticipation of Putin’s dismissal of Defense Minister Shoigu.
Mr Putin has said that while Wagner does not represent the state, he does not violate Russian law and has the right to operate anywhere in the world and advance his business interests. I have to.
But one military blogger who has been involved in shaping Russian opinion on the Ukraine war likened Prigozhin to a Roman “hundred” commander who was allowed to operate outside the law.
He added that Wagner’s successes had led to the prospect of Prigozin, now at the level of online voting, becoming defense minister.
But Mr. Prigogine cares nothing about the lives of Wagner fighters, said a former Federal Security Service (FSS) official. The official said that securing the areas around Soledar and Bakhmut had no military significance.
“In short, Prigozhin is a private businessman who is highly dependent on his close ties to the authorities, which is a very vulnerable position,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R. Politic, a political analyst firm. said.
The Russian government has allowed Mr. Prigozhin to recruit thousands of prisoners to join Wagner’s fighters. U.S. officials put the number at about 50,000. Wagner is also authorized to carry tanks, military aircraft and missile defense systems.
In his relations with the regular army, Mr. Prigozhin has occasionally criticized the military’s upper echelons with disrespectful words and deeds, but some Western military experts believe that despite these superficial conflicts, there is a secret behind the scenes. Wagner and the regular army are thought to be closely linked.
However, some Western military experts believe that the appointment of a senior military officer to command the war in Ukraine was aimed at curbing Mr. Prigozhin’s influence.
Leonid Nevzlin, a former executive at failed Russian oil giant Yukos, warned that Wagner could in fact risk slipping out of government control.
A person close to Russian officials said the president’s office sees Mr. Prigozhin as a “useful pawn” but has “security measures” in place to keep such military leaders from going out of control.
(Reporter Andrew Osborn)