The outspoken rich chief of the Wagner private mercenary group insulted Russia’s military officials for months, weakening them throughout the Ukraine conflict.
Yevgeny Prigozhin accused them of not giving him weapons in the crucial battle for Bakhmut.
In May, he was seen hurling obscenities at Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, blaming them for the bloodshed.
“They came here as volunteers and died to let you lounge in your mahogany offices,” Prigozhin said. “You are in your expensive clubs, your children are living well and making YouTube videos. We’ll consume those who don’t give us ammunition in hell!”
He called President Vladimir Putin an inattentive “granddad” who thought the invasion was going well.
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Prigozhin went too far on Friday.
He vowed he would punish Shoigu for ordering a rocket strike on his mercenary forces’ field encampment, which killed several.
After Prigozhin threatened to overthrow Shoigu, Russia’s top counterterrorism agency launched a criminal investigation and demanded his arrest.
After two decades of Putin’s strict reign, his top lieutenants’ worst infighting broke out in Moscow.
It occurred as Ukraine’s war entered its 16th month and Kyiv began a counteroffensive against Russia.
Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, stated, “All the necessary measures were being taken.” Putin was notified.
Prigozhin, 62, called his actions “a march of justice, not a military coup.”
Prigozhin claimed his soldiers will punish the military authorities who authorized the strike and shoot any troops trying to stop them.
“The evil embodied by the country’s military leadership must be stopped,” he cried in a recorded message, adding that his soldiers weren’t challenging Putin and other government structures. “Justice will be restored in the armed forces and then in Russia.”
Defense Ministry denied attacking Prigozhin soldiers. Then the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, an FSB branch, publicized the probe into the outspoken millionaire and encouraged Wagner’s soldiers to arrest their boss.
The FSB called Prigozhin’s comments a “stab in the back of the Russian troops” that incited violent warfare.
Putin and the leadership have ignored Prigozhin’s military-bashing. Some regarded the infighting’s failure as a harbinger of political developments in Russia that may lead to further infighting.
Most Russians watch state-controlled TV, which ignores the war. Channel 1 aired an unplanned newscast Friday citing the Defense Ministry’s denial of Prigozhin’s allegation and calling a video he uploaded of a Wagner camp rocket attack false.
Politically active, ultrapatriotic Russians on social media have followed the argument.
Prigozhin’s harsh criticism continued even as the Kremlin fines and imprisons other detractors.
“There are growing signs of deep dysfunction, anxiety, worry about the war and real problems in marshaling the resources necessary to fight it effectively,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, adding that Putin is not losing influence.
Prigozhin’s mercenaries’ war for Bakhmut exposed his longstanding enmity with military authorities. The guy known as “Putin’s chef” for his lucrative Kremlin catering contracts has risen in Russian politics and signaled his intentions.
Prigozhin crossed Putin’s territory with his harsh remarks: Over the years, the Russian leader occasionally made a crude comment or jest, while top officials spoke politely.
In another recent video, Prigozhin appeared to insult Putin. While his guys were dying owing to the Defense Ministry’s lack of ammunition, a “happy granddad is thinking he’s doing well,” he said, using an obscenity.
The forthright phrase sparked a social media controversy as a Putin reference. Prigozhin later clarified he meant Gerasimov.
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Gould-Davies told The Associated Press that Prigozhin is sailing closer to the wind than before.
Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov called Prigozhin “the second-most popular man after Putin” and a “symbol of Russia’s military victory for millions of people.”
Putin needs Prigozhin’s mercenaries while the regular military recovers from prior warsetbacks. After his private army conquered Bakhmut last month in the war’s longest and deadliest combat, the Wagner chief’s position strengthened.
“Putin dominates the system, but he still sort of depends upon a small number of big people to implement his will, to provide him with resources to carry out his orders, including fighting the war,” Gould-Davies told AP.
Gould-Davies said Putin’s ability to separate groups and “decide who wins and who loses, and who’s up and who’s down” undermines the government’s wartime authority.