Wagner Group: power struggle with the Kremlin?
While Ukrainian and Russian forces are engaged in a fierce battle for the town of Bakhmut, the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has threatened to withdraw his mercenaries from the region due to ammunition delivery failures. Commentators wonder what consequences an internal power struggle among Russia’s top military personnel could have.
War within a war
Bakhmut is a coveted prize, Russia expert Anna Zafesova points out in La Stampa:
“Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, has no inhibitions about presenting himself as the only man capable of conquering ‘Fortress Bakhmut’ for the Kremlin, while accusing the Russian military of working against him. Vladimir Putin wants this city to be virtually razed to the ground by his artillery so he can present it to the Russians as the first trophy, after failing to make any significant progress on the battle map in more than seven months. In this way, Bakhmut has become a booty fought over by Putin’s two armies, the official one under the Ministry of Defence and the private one, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group.”
Unprecedented internal rivalry
Columnist Pierre Haski finds Prigozhin’s actions baffling in a commentary piece on France Inter:
“He released some surprising videos, including one on Saturday evening, in which he announces that the entire Russian front will collapse if Wagner leaves Bakhmut. This statement is all the more surprising because the Russians claim they have almost surrounded the town. ... So why is he talking as if defeat were imminent? He complains of not receiving the necessary ammunition and implicitly blames General Gerasimov. This internal rivalry is unprecedented in wartime. So is the silence of the Kremlin.”
Prigozhin has overestimated his power
The Kleine Zeitung says things don’t bode well for the mercenary boss:
“Prigozhin was created by Putin — but he is now trying to turn against his master. That will not go well. He may cast himself as Putin’s challenger, but Prigozhin himself has no backing and no domestic power in the Russian security apparatus; nor does he have a region behind him, like governors do. Prigozhin has overestimated his role. More than a few people are already predicting a sudden defenestration. It needn’t be that dramatic. But Prigozhin can give up any hope of a career in politics in Russia. The chef has spent too much time cooking his own soup.”
All eyes on Bakhmut
The next few months could be decisive for the course of the war, La Vanguardia points out:
“This is not just another anecdote in this long war. It is a decisive moment. If Ukraine can hold out for the next two or three months, the chances of a definitive stalemate are high and Vladimir Putin will have to negotiate a solution to the conflict. Just a few days ago Bakhmut’s fall was all but certain. ... But Bakhmut has not surrendered, and the leader of the Wagner group yesterday called on the Russian defence ministry to send his fighters more ammunition because his forces were on the verge of collapse. ... So it’s hard to predict what will happen, but all eyes are on the hitherto unknown city of Bakhmut.”