As Russian forces wage fierce house-to-house battles for control of strongholds in eastern Ukraine, there is a parallel battle at the top of Moscow’s military, with President Vladimir Putin slapping his top generals A reshuffle ensues, while rival factions try to win control of him. agree.
Fighting for the salt mining town of Soledar and the nearby city of Bakhmut Highlights a serious rift between the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Defense and rogue millionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, the private military arm of the Wagner Group (Wagner Group) is playing an increasingly prominent role in Ukraine.
Putin’s reshuffle of the top military this week was seen as a way to show that the defense ministry still has his support and is in charge amid ongoing conflict Approaching the 11-month mark.
Prigozhin hastily announced Wednesday that his mercenaries had captured Soledar, arguing that the award went entirely to Wagner.The Ministry of Defense disputed the characterization – which described the actions of the Airborne and other forces during the battle – and claimed the town on FridayA spokesman for the Ukrainian military denied this, saying the fighting in Soledar continued.
61-year-old PrigozhinDubbed “Putin’s chef” for his lucrative catering contracts and indicted in the United States for meddling in the 2016 presidential election, his fortune has expanded to include Wagner, as well as mining and other areas. He sharply criticized the mistakes made by the top military in Ukraine, saying Wagner was more effective than regular troops.
He found a strong ally in Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who deployed elite troops from his home region of southern Russia to fight in Ukraine and blasted the military leadership and The Kremlin is too weak and indecisive.
While both have pledged allegiance to Putin, their public attacks on Putin’s top generals publicly challenged the Kremlin’s monopoly on such criticism, something Russia’s tightly controlled political system had never seen before.
In the reshuffle announced Wednesday, the Ministry of Defense said the head of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, was named the new commander-in-chief of Russia’s forces in Ukraine, while the former top commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovkin, Demoted as Gerasimov’s deputy after just three months on the job.
The Washington-based Institute for War Studies saw the reshuffle as an attempt by the Kremlin to “reaffirm the primacy of the Russian Ministry of Defense in power struggles within Russia,” weakening the influence of its enemies and signaling to Russia that Prigozhin and others have reduced their ties to Russia. their criticism.
Prigozhin and Kadyrov have repeatedly criticized Gerasimov, the mastermind behind Russia’s operations in Ukraine, and held him accountable for the military failure while praising Surovkin.
Russian troops have been forced to retreat from Kyiv after a failed attempt to take the Ukrainian capital in the opening weeks of the war. In the fall, under the onslaught of a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive, they scrambled out of the Kharkov region in the northeast and the southern city of Kherson.
Surovkin commanded the evacuation from Kherson, the only regional center occupied by Russia, and was credited with strengthening his command and strengthening the discipline of his troops. But Ukrainian missiles struck the eastern town of Makivka on Jan. 1, killing dozens of Russian soldiers and tarnishing his image.
Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya noted that Gerasimov’s appointment marks yet another attempt by Putin to Solve his military problems by shaking the brass.
“He’s trying to reshuffle the deck, thus giving opportunities to those he finds persuasive,” she wrote. “But really, it’s not the people that are the problem, it’s the task at hand.”
Stanovaya argued that Gerasimov could have asked for carte blanche “in the midst of a heated war of words against the backdrop of some very tense discussions.” For Putin, “it’s a maneuver, a tug of war between Surovkin (and sympathizers like Prigozhin) and Gerasimov,” she added.
Gerasimov, who began his military career as a Soviet Army tank officer in the 1970s, has been chief of the general staff since 2012 and was seen sitting with Defense Minister Sergei Saud when the conflict began in February. Putin at a long table next to Igou. His appointment to head the Ukrainian army has drawn sharp comments from some Russia hawks.
Viktor Alksnis, a retired Soviet air force colonel who spearheaded a failed attempt to defend the Soviet Union in 1991, points out that Gerasimov even before his appointment Operations in Ukraine have been monitored.
“This decision reflects our political and military leadership’s understanding that Special Military Operations has failed and has not achieved its objectives after nearly a year of fighting,” Alkersness wrote on his messaging app channel road. “Replacing Surovikin with Gerasimov won’t change anything.”
Mark Galeotti, who specializes in Russian military and security affairs at University College London, said the appointment gave Gerasimov “the most poisonous Holy Grail” because he would now be held accountable for any more setbacks. direct responsibility.
“Gerasimov’s life hangs by a thread,” Galeotti said in comments on Twitter. “He needs some kind of victory, otherwise his career will end in disgrace. That could well suggest some sort of escalation.”
Galeotti also warned that the frequent reshuffle of Russian generals could undermine the loyalty of the officer corps.
“If you keep appointing, rotating, burning your (relative) stars, setting unrealistic expectations, relegating at will, that doesn’t earn loyalty,” he said.
At the same time, Prigozhin took advantage of the military setback in Ukraine to expand his influence, making the Wagner Group a key part of Russia’s fighting force, augmenting the battered regular army.
Ukrainian officials said the Wagner contractor had suffered heavy losses in the battles at Soledar and Bakhmut and was advancing “on the dead bodies of its own comrades”.
Prigozhin, who has served time behind bars for assault and robbery convictions, has visited Russia’s sprawling network of penal colonies in recent months, recruiting prisoners to join Wagner’s forces to fight in Ukraine in exchange for pardons.
He recently released a video showing some 20 criminals being allowed to leave the ranks of fighters after serving half a year on the front line, while also making it clear that anyone who disrupts the ranks will face brutal punishment.
Video released in the fall showed a Wagner contractor beaten to death with a sledgehammer after he allegedly defected to the Ukrainian side. Despite public outrage and calls for an investigation into the incident, authorities turned a blind eye.
Observers warn that the government, by letting Prigorzhin run Wagner freely as a private army governed by medieval-style rules, is effectively sowing the dangerous seeds for possible unrest.
“Eventually there will be chaos and an expansion of violence — extrajudicial and illegal,” predicts Carnegie Foundation analyst Andrei Kolesnikov.
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