Have you heard of Vladimir Putin’s chef? (latimes.com) No, he’s not whipping up gourmet meals for the Russian president. Instead, Yevgeny Prigozhin is the millionaire head of private military contractor Wagner, and he’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
In May, Prigozhin posted a video that shocked Russians used to two decades of rigidly controlled rule by Putin. In the video, he stood in front of the bloodied bodies of his slain troops in Ukraine and yelled expletive-riddled insults at Russian military leaders, blaming them for the carnage. (latimes.com) He accused them of sitting in their expensive clubs while his fighters died without adequate ammunition. (latimes.com)
The video and other rants by Prigozhin against the military leadership have been met with silence from Putin and his top brass. (latimes.com) This lack of action from Putin has some worried that there could be shifts in Russia’s political scene that set the stage for more internal battles.
While there are no indications that Putin is losing influence, there are growing signs of deep dysfunction, anxiety, worry about the war, and real problems in marshaling the resources necessary to fight it effectively. (latimes.com) (apnews.com) Prigozhin’s feud with military leaders goes back years, and it’s pushing the Wagner owner to the forefront of Russian politics and signaling his growing ambitions.
The infighting between Prigozhin and the military leaders has been ignored by state-controlled TV, where most Russians get their news. However, it’s being followed closely by politically active, ultrapatriotic readers and viewers on social media networks, which share his contempt for military leaders.
Prigozhin’s position was bolstered after the private army captured Bakhmut last month in the war’s longest and bloodiest battle, relying on tens of thousands of convicts who were promised pardons if they survived six months of fighting. (latimes.com) Putin needs Prigozhin’s mercenaries at a time when the regular military is still recovering from setbacks earlier in the invasion. (latimes.com)
However, Prigozhin’s crude and caustic remarks have put him on thin ice, and some have interpreted a recent statement as a thinly veiled attack on Putin himself. (latimes.com) In the statement, Prigozhin declared that while his men were dying due to the Defense Ministry’s failure to supply ammunition, a “happy granddad is thinking he’s doing well,” and then referred to that “granddad” with an obscenity. (latimes.com)
Prigozhin is now sailing much closer to the wind than he ever has. (latimes.com) While Putin may adhere to keeping various factions divided and then intervening to “decide who wins and who loses, and who’s up and who’s down,” the process erodes the government’s authority in wartime.
The infighting is continuing amid Ukraine’s counteroffensive, a point when really everyone should have one single common goal. However, Putin’s failure to resolve political disputes could be rooted in a lack of interest, a focus on other issues, or, more likely, a reluctance to take sides. (latimes.com)
It raises questions about Putin’s overall capacity to do his job. (latimes.com) This is the one thing, the one job he can’t really outsource, and he’s not even trying. While Putin may not be losing his grip on power, the infighting among his lieutenants is hurting Russia’s war footing.
In conclusion, Putin’s chef is stirring up trouble, and it could have negative consequences for Russia’s war efforts. While Putin may be able to keep various factions divided, it’s not the way to fight a war effectively. The infighting among his top lieutenants is causing deep dysfunction and anxiety, and it’s eroding the government’s authority in wartime. Putin needs to take action and resolve these disputes before they cause more harm to Russia’s war efforts.