Prigozhin decided that it was better than the state, that it could be challenged and replaced
Dubbed “Putin’s chef”, Prigozhin heads the Wagner Group. He has been pushing his fighters for months to the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine alongside conventional forces, as part of Russian pressure to achieve the first field victory in the war since the summer of 2022, and he is seen by the Kremlin as an essential tool in the war.
But Bergin says in her article in “Newsweek” magazine that cracks began to appear in the businessman’s relationship with the Kremlin when he showed enthusiasm to enter the political sphere, launching attacks against Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov. These complications multiplied when he threatened to withdraw from Bakhmut last week, due to a lack of ammunition.
An angry Prigozhin appeared in an appeal he made for more ammunition on May 5, hours after he posted a video clip of him standing near what he said were the bodies of his killed fighters in Bakhmut. And he had previously focused his attacks only on Shoigu and Gerasimov, blaming them for the death of his fighters, because they did not send him more ammunition, according to his claim.
Days later, on May 9, Victory Day — when Moscow celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War Two — Prigozhin complained about a lack of ammunition, posting videos before and after Putin’s speech in Moscow’s Red Square. He said his fighters were still in need of ammunition, that the Wagner Group was not allowed to withdraw, and that it had received threats to accuse deserters of treason. Prigozhin called the Russian generals traitors.
The relationship between Putin and Prigozhin dates back to the 1990s, when the latter owned companies catering to the Kremlin and achieved a rapid rise in Russian society, amassing a huge fortune. Last year, he emerged as a key player in the war unleashed by the Russian leader.
Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for Russia and Eurasian Affairs, said Prigozhin’s recent videos prove he has no direct contacts with Putin. She told NEWSWEEK that “the only way to express his opposition, his disagreement and his anger, is to go to the public. That is why he has posted videos showing how angry he is that things have gone the wrong way, and how difficult it is for him and his comrades.”--
According to expert Vlad Maykhenko, the Wagner Group did not enter the war until after Russia suffered a “humiliating defeat in the Battle of Kiev in the spring of 2022,” and after Prigozhin and his fighters obtained full support from the Russian government in order to recruit dangerous inmates in prisons, and provide them with tanks, planes, combat helicopters, and artillery. Heavy and unlimited supply of ammunition.
But things changed when the Kremlin began to see that Prigozhin had greater ambitions, and began to view him from the angle of his political personality.
“Prigozhin’s main activity during this conflict has always been to try to build on the war and pool more resources in Russia itself — in order to get a government position, or a leading political role, and turn his military value into tangible economic and political value inside Russia,” Mykhnienko noted.
He added that the Kremlin had begun to “manage it” and “minimize its inflated influence”. He explained that “Putin’s decision to reinstall Gerasimov and other generals, with whom Prigozhin publicly clashes, in the leadership of the Russian war in late 2022 was the beginning of the end” for the “Wagner” president.
Stanovaya pointed out that Prigozhin decided that it was better than the state, and that it could be challenged and replaced. “Putin, who had to deal with a lot of complaints about Prigozhin, rebalanced the situation in favor of the security services, and tried to achieve this kind of unity,” she said, referring to Prigozhin’s allegations that he was prevented from recruiting more for the Wagner Group from prisons.
Mikhnenko says Prigozhin “exhausted himself”. He added, “His life will end suddenly and involuntarily as soon as possible.”