Recent analysis by the Washington Post has detailed how, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group and a confidant of Vladimir Putin, reportedly told Putin of the Russian military’s mishandling of the war in Ukraine.
The report states that two U.S. officials who requested anonymity to talk about this sensitive intelligence, claimed that Prigozhin’s criticism was merely repetition of what he has been saying in public for weeks.
However, the admission that he felt at ease criticising the Russian military effort to Putin in a private conversation demonstrates how his influence is growing as Moscow’s war falters. It also draws attention to the precarious position of the official leadership of Russia’s defense establishment, which has come under fire from Prigozhin and others following months of blunders and defeats on the battlefield.
The Washington Post previously claimed, without naming the source, that a Russian insider confronted Putin personally to draw attention to mismanagement of the war effort. According to the publication, the exchange was deemed significant enough to be included in President Biden’s daily intelligence briefing.
According to individuals who have read the file, a separate U.S. intelligence report on Prigozhin’s discontent with the Russian Defense Ministry and his escalating conflict with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is also the focus of the file.
Prigozhin operated in the shadows of Russian authority for years, maintaining his independence from both the infamous Wagner mercenary group in Russia and the St. Petersburg internet troll farm that American authorities claim he funded in order to influence the 2016 U.S presidential election.
Over the last few weeks, Prigozhin has made a dramatic entrance into public life, admitting for the first time that he led Wagner, and openly criticising Russian military leaders for their errors.
Russian mercenary groups comes out of the shadows in Ukraine
“That’s the political public position that he has been striking: I am Yevgeniy Prigozhin. I’m here to tell you the truth, and I’ll get the job done,” according to one U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Prigozhin has stated that the Russian Defense Ministry depends too heavily on Wagner and is not providing it with sufficient resources and funds to carry out its mission in the war, based on the U.S. intelligence report that has been making the rounds in Washington, according to individuals who have read the report.
In order to put pressure on the Kremlin to increase funding, U.S. intelligence officials believe that Prigozhin staged a recent social media video showing Wagner soldiers lamenting a lack of basic food and supplies.
“Prigozhin’s decision to confront Putin is only the latest sign of his dissatisfaction,” stated an individual who read the report.
Yet, in remarks made late Monday, Oct. 24, through his press service to The Washington Post, Prigozhin denied recent direct interaction with Putin.
“First, I did not communicate personally with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin either recently or in any foreseeable future. I did not criticize the management of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation during the conflict in Ukraine. Therefore, I cannot comment on anything,” he continued, adding that since he was not an expert in the field of warfare, he had no right to criticise or commend the performance of Russia’s army.
He also claimed that he had not seen any footage of Wagner forces criticising their food and supplies.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from commenting on the alleged conversation between Prigozhin and Putin.
Prigozhin has placed himself as a no-holds-barred leader able to demonstrate results on the battlefield in Ukraine since the start of the conflict by using Shoigu and top uniformed generals as his foils.
His paramilitary organisation has been waging an offensive to capture Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk Region held by Ukrainian forces. The Wagner group is made up of battle-hardened veterans accused of human rights violations who work outside the official Russian military structure. Some analysts interpret this as an effort to demonstrate to the Russian military that his soldiers can advance even when the rest of the army is lagging behind.
As a result, his standing in Putin’s innermost circle appears to have recovered after being reportedly put at risk prior to the war on Ukraine by disagreements with leading Russian officials.
“He has been really rising all these last months,” argued Marlene Laruelle, director of the Institute for European, Russia and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University. “The war gave him the possibility of accessing Putin more than ever before.”
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