Paranoid Putin ‘turns against’ Wagner chief

Vladimir Putin is said to have turned against the head of the feared Russian Wagner mercenary group after the private army chief ‘failed to take the hint’ and kept on bragging that his forces were achieving more success than Russia’s.

Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has fallen out of favour with Putin after he continuously gloated that his private paramilitary fighters were more superior and successful than Russia’s conventional forces, experts say. 

Earlier this month, Prigozhin undermined Putin by bragging that his fighters had single-handedly taken control of the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, which has been razed to the ground by fighting. 

Putin is said to have felt threatened by Prigozhin’s rise and tactless self-assertion, experts from the Institute for the Study of War said today. This was evident, the ISW researchers said, when the Russian President pointedly did not credit Prigozhin or his Wagner forces for the capture of Soledar. 

Earlier this month, Prigozhin (centre) undermined Putin by bragging that his fighters had single-handedly taken control of the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, which has been razed to the ground by fighting

A Ukrainian tank drives down a street in the heavily damaged town of Siversk which is situated near the front lines with Russia on January 21

A Ukrainian tank drives down a street in the heavily damaged town of Siversk which is situated near the front lines with Russia on January 21

Putin, paranoid about Prigozhin’s power, began to reintroduce himself as an involved wartime leader and met with commanders after the Wagner boss posted a picture of himself with Wagner mercenaries at the entrance of a salt mine in Soledar.

‘Prigozhin did not take the hint, if hint it was, but instead redoubled his efforts to assert himself by advertising the superiority and successes of his own troops,’ the experts from ISW said.

The Wagner boss instead tried to boost his standing by claiming he had arrived at the front lines near Bakhmut to speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky regarding the control of territories there. 

‘His rhetoric and self-presentation had become overbearing and ostentatiously swaggering until things began to go south for him,’ the ISW said. 

Since Putin’s war began, Prigozhin and Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov have been jockeying for power and prominence, suggesting that they could one day want to supplant Putin.

Prigozhin has been publicly critical of Russia’s army and their military leadership. 

‘Prigozhin likely imagined that his efforts in Ukraine would continue to lend him military and political power in Russia,’ the experts said. 

Vladimir Putin is said to have turned against Prigozhin after the private army chief 'failed to take the hint' and kept on bragging that his forces were achieving more success than Russia's

Vladimir Putin is said to have turned against Prigozhin after the private army chief ‘failed to take the hint’ and kept on bragging that his forces were achieving more success than Russia’s

But Putin has now begun marginalising Prigozhin’s Wagner group and has instead returned to relying on his conventional forces by appointing General Valery Gerasimov as Russia’s new military commander in Ukraine. 

‘Prigozhin’s recent apparent fall from grace and influence likely reflects the real limitations on his actual power,’ the ISW said. 

The experts suggested that the return to the prominence of Russia’s conventional military will make it less likely Russia’s president will ‘give in to the crazier demands of the far-right, pro-war faction’ in Moscow. 

Prigozhin has approximately 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, of whom 40,000 are convicts and 10,000 contractors, according to UK and US intelligence.

The ISW researchers said the marginalisation of Prigozhin, who has overseen the execution of deserters with sledgehammers, is positive. 

But the experts said the re-emergence of the Russian military is ‘concerning’ as it means Russia could get back on course toward rebuilding its forces.

While Putin is now focusing his efforts on centralising his armed forces and strengthening his command over them, this is not going to plan, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said today. 

Putin’s newly-appointed military commander in Ukraine has seen a collapse in support just 12 days into the job after he brought in ‘farcical’ new rules ordering troops to shave, the MoD said.  

Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff of the armed forces, has been criticised by those within his own ranks for being ‘out of touch’ by prioritising troops’ appearances over combat training.

Gerasimov, who was put in charge of troops fighting in Ukraine only 12 days ago on January 11, was ridiculed for his focus on troops being clean-shaven amid heavy Russian casualties on the battlefield in Ukraine.  

Britain’s defence ministry today said that since Gerasimov took command, Russian officers have been attempting to clamp down on non-regulation uniform, travel in civilian vehicles, the use of mobile phones and non-standard haircuts.

General Valery Gerasimov (pictured), Russia's Chief of the General Staff of the armed forces, has been criticised by those within his own ranks for being 'out of touch' by prioritising troops' appearances over combat training

General Valery Gerasimov (pictured), Russia’s Chief of the General Staff of the armed forces, has been criticised by those within his own ranks for being ‘out of touch’ by prioritising troops’ appearances over combat training

Gerasimov, who was put in charge of troops fighting in Ukraine only 12 days ago on January 11, was ridiculed for his focus on troops being clean-shaven amid heavy Russian casualties on the battlefield in Ukraine. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers drive a tank down a street outside of the heavily damaged town of Siversk which is situated near the front lines with Russia on January 21

Gerasimov, who was put in charge of troops fighting in Ukraine only 12 days ago on January 11, was ridiculed for his focus on troops being clean-shaven amid heavy Russian casualties on the battlefield in Ukraine. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers drive a tank down a street outside of the heavily damaged town of Siversk which is situated near the front lines with Russia on January 21

The measures have been met with ‘sceptical feedback’ and some of the ‘greatest derision’ has been reserved for Gerasimov’s attempts to improve the standards of troops’ shaving, Britain’s MoD said in an intelligence briefing today.

Officials in the Donetsk People’s Republic have described the prioritisation a ‘farce’ that would ‘hamper the process of destroying the enemy’, the MoD said.  

Prigozhin criticised Gerasimov’s leadership and said ‘war is the time of the active and courageous, and not of the clean-shaven’.

Britain’s MoD said Gerasimov’s prioritisation of minor regulations over combat training amid heavy Russian casualties and operational deadlock on the battlefield, will ‘likely confirm the fears of his many sceptics in Russia’.

‘Along with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, he is increasingly seen as out of touch and focused on presentation over substance,’ the MoD said.

Gerasimov, like Shoigu, has faced sharp criticism from Russia’s hawkish military bloggers for multiple setbacks on the battlefield and Moscow’s failure to secure victory in a campaign the Kremlin had expected to take just a short time.

Ukrainian soldiers take part in military drills in Donetsk region, on January 21

Ukrainian soldiers take part in military drills in Donetsk region, on January 21

Britain's MoD said Gerasimov's (pictured with Putin in December 2021) prioritisation of minor regulations over combat training amid heavy Russian casualties and operational deadlock on the battlefield, will 'likely confirm the fears of his many sceptics in Russia'

Britain’s MoD said Gerasimov’s (pictured with Putin in December 2021) prioritisation of minor regulations over combat training amid heavy Russian casualties and operational deadlock on the battlefield, will ‘likely confirm the fears of his many sceptics in Russia’

Only last October, Russia had put Sergey Surovikin, nicknamed ‘General Armageddon’ for his reputed ruthlessness, in overall charge of Ukraine operations following a series of counter-offensives by Ukrainian forces that turned the tide of the conflict.

But the reshuffle has meant Surovikin will serve as Gerasimov’s deputy.

The shake-up was designed to increase the effectiveness of military operations in Ukraine, it said, more than 10 months into a campaign in which tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides as well as Ukrainian civilians have been killed.

‘The increase in the level of leadership of the special military operation is connected with the expansion in the scale of tasks… the need to organise closer contact between different branches of the armed forces and improve the quality… and effectiveness of the management of Russian forces,’ the Russia’s ministry of defence said earlier this month. 

But Gerasimov’s prioritisation of minor regulations – including on whether troops are clean-shaven – over combat training has meant he has meant he has already lost support 12 days into the new role.  

Gerasimov, who was seen as the top architect of the Russian action in Ukraine as the country’s top military officer in charge of strategic military planning, has also widely blamed for Moscow’s military setbacks.

Wagner boss Prigozhin has accused Gerasimov of incompetence and blamed him for a string of Russian military setbacks.

Ukrainian soldiers work on a military vehicle on a road outside of the heavily damaged town of Siversk which is situated near the front lines with Russia on January 21

Ukrainian soldiers work on a military vehicle on a road outside of the heavily damaged town of Siversk which is situated near the front lines with Russia on January 21

Such criticism was also shared by Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who deployed troops from his region to fight in Ukraine and repeatedly urged the Kremlin to up the ante in the conflict.

The criticism of Gerasimov from Prigozhin and Kadyrov rose to a high pitch in September, when Russian troops were forced to pull back from Ukraine’s northeastern region of Kharkiv by a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive. 

The criticism of Gerasimov from Prigozhin and Kadyrov rose to a high pitch in September, when Russian troops were forced to pull back from Ukraine’s northeastern region of Kharkiv by a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Kadyrov particularly accused Gerasimov of covering up for his protege, Col. Gen. Alexander Lapin, who was in charge of the troops that retreated from the Kharkiv region.

Despite such attacks, Lapin was promoted to become the chief of staff of ground forces earlier this month. His promotion along with Gerasimov’s new appointment appear to signal that Prigozhin and Kadyrov have little influence over the Kremlin’s decision-making despite their increasing public activity.

It comes after Russian pro-war commentators were also left unimpressed by Gerasimov’s appointment. 

‘The sum does not change, just by changing the places of its parts,’ wrote one prominent military blogger who posts on the Telegram messaging app under the name of Rybar.

Ukrainian soldiers take part in military drills in Donetsk region, on January 21

Ukrainian soldiers take part in military drills in Donetsk region, on January 21

He said Surovikin, a veteran of Russian campaigns in Chechnya and Syria, was being made the fall guy for a series of recent Russian military failures, including a Ukrainian attack on a Russian barracks in the town of Makiivka that killed at least 89 Russian soldiers, including conscripts, at New Year.

Meanwhile, Poland’s prime minister said today his government would ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, and planned to send them whether or not Berlin agreed.

Germany’s foreign minister had said on Sunday that Berlin would not stand in the way if Poland wanted to do so.

The issue of supplying the German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine has dominated recent discussions among Western allies about how much and what sort of material aid they should give Ukraine as the first anniversary of the Russian invasion nears.

Berlin, though it has provided substantial aid, has been criticised for dragging its feet on providing military hardware.

Meanwhile, Poland's prime minister said today his government would ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks (file image) to Ukraine, and planned to send them whether or not Berlin agreed

Meanwhile, Poland’s prime minister said today his government would ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks (file image) to Ukraine, and planned to send them whether or not Berlin agreed

German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Monday it was important for Germany not to take a ‘reckless’ step that might be regretted afterward, adding that a decision will not be rushed.

‘These are hard questions of life and death,’ he added. ‘We have to ask what this means for the defence of our own country.’

The development comes as Russia and Ukraine are believed to be planning spring offensives to break deadlock in what has become a war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Current fighting is centred on the town of Bakhmut in the east, where Russia’s Wagner mercenaries and Ukrainian forces have been locked in battle. 

Russia said on Sunday its forces were improving their positions in Ukraine’s southern region of Zaporizhzhia.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials have been pleading with Western allies to supply them with Leopard tanks for months, but Germany has held back from sending them or allowing other NATO countries to re-export them. Leopards, held by an array of NATO countries, are seen by defence experts as the most suitable for Ukraine.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Warsaw would ask Germany for permission to re-export tanks to Ukraine, ‘but this is an issue of secondary importance.

‘Even if we did not get this approval… we would still transfer our tanks together with others to Ukraine’, he told reporters. ‘The condition for us at the moment is to build at least a small coalition of countries.’

Western allies pledged billions of dollars in weapons for Ukraine last week but they failed to persuade Germany to lift its veto on providing the tanks.

But in an apparent shift in Germany’s position, foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday her government would not block Poland if it tries to send its Leopards.

Baerbock’s remarks appeared to go further than Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s comments at a summit in Paris earlier that day that all decisions on weapons deliveries would be made in co-ordination with allies, including the United States.

Ukraine says the heavily armoured battle tanks would give its ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive expected in coming months.

A close ally of Putin said on Sunday that deliveries of offensive weapons to Kyiv that threaten Russia’s territories would lead to a global catastrophe and make arguments against using weapons of mass destruction untenable.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, warned that the United States and NATO’s support of Ukraine was leading the world to a ‘terrible war’.

Author: Wayne Evans