In a recent Civilmedia interview, Vadym Skibitsky of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, outlined how the June 23 uprising by Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has shone a stark spotlight on cracks in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power.
Skibitsky recounted how, within a span of 36 hours, Prigozhin's insurgents managed to down eight units of Russian military aircraft, killed several dozen servicemen, including pilots, and nearly seized control of the Voronezh-45 nuclear facility. Putin, who labeled the rebellion as “treason” and a “stab in the back,” responded by permitting the group’s exit to Belarus.
Describing Putin’s actions as those of a “weak and paranoid grandfather” who is both “frightened” and “vengeful,” Skibitsky gave the example of the Kremlin leader’s subsequent purges within the Russian army, aimed at identifying and penalizing those who supported Prigozhin.
The intelligence officer mentioned a Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs report, intercepted by Ukrainian military intelligence. describing how the uprising garnered general support among ordinary Russians. He added that confidential ratings of public sentiment towards Putin and Prigozhin would have made disappointing reading for the Russian president.
Skibitsky remarked that Wagner group mercenaries have posed more challenges on the Ukrainian battlefield than the conventional Russian army, attributing this to their heightened preparedness and combat readiness.
“While they have been disarmed in Ukraine's temporarily occupied territories and in Russia, with their subsequent relocation to Belarus, Ukrainian military intelligence remains vigilant in tracking the Wagner group's activities within Belarus. Although the current situation does not pose a direct threat, we continue to monitor their activities,” the intelligence officer explained.
He noted that Wagner mercenaries are presently involved in training activities within Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's army, albeit in an unsystematic manner.
Other paramilitary units
Wagner aside, Skibitsky revealed that there are numerous other private militias within Russia, whose operations are typically funded by major corporations such as Gazprom. He added that Russia has embarked on establishing federal paramilitary units composed of local residents who would likely be armed with light weaponry and financially supported through local budgets.
“Given the substantial internal disparities within Russia, this move could potentially yield unforeseen consequences for Moscow,” Skibitsky cautioned. “For instance, it may trigger movements seeking national liberation among oppressed members of the population, or propel Russia into the tumultuous abyss of internal strife.”
Expanding further, the intelligence officer disclosed that there is evidence that the so-called Russian private military company “Patriot” is linked to Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu. However, Skibitsky clarified, that the group does not seek to “seize Putin's throne,” but is instead “oriented toward personal security.”
Skibitsky said of Shoigu: “While he may harbor ambitious aspirations, the odds of him ascending to Russia's highest position are slim. A key factor contributing to this is his lack of charisma and popularity. Even the Russian occupation forces themselves don't hold the minister in particularly high regard, often subjecting him to ridicule and labeling him a 'reindeer breeder'.”
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