When Kadyrov speaks, Prigozhin echoes The power struggle around Russia’s Defense Ministry — and what it means for Russia’s military
On Oct. 1, Russia’s Defense Ministry admitted that the Russian army had left Lyman, a city in the Donetsk region of Ukraine that had been captured by the occupying forces early last summer. According to the ministry, the Russian troops had now moved “to more advantageous positions.” That statement was followed by Ramzan Kadyrov’s derisive remark: “Yesterday, it was the parade in Izium, today it’s the Ukrainian flag in Lyman – and what about tomorrow? It would all be well and good if it weren’t so bad,” quipped the Head of the Chechen Republic. Shortly afterwards, Evgeny Prigozhin, the man behind the Wagner Group, replied to Kadyrov: “Beautiful, Ramzan, keep it up.” This wasn’t the first instance of Ramzan Kadyrov criticizing Russia’s Defense Ministry – and being seconded by Prigozhin. On Sept. 24, for example, the Chechen leader urged that 50 percent of the Russian law-enforcement troops be sent to the front. Immediately, Prigozhin spoke up – that Kadyrov was right. Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin think this is something more than just a coincidence. Here are the connections they shared with us, and what this may mean for the future of Russia’s military.
The day before Russia’s retreat from Lyman, Vladimir Putin signed several “treaties” for the annexation of Ukrainian territories: the self-proclaimed “DNR” and “LNR,” as well as the occupied Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. This was followed by a muddled speech, whose main thrust was that Russia would never “betray” “its people” in the newly-annexed regions.
Following the retreat from Lyman the next day, Kadyrov blamed the failure on the Colonel Gen. Alexander Lapin. According to Kadyrov, Lapin was in command of the Russian defense forces in that area, but failed to supply his troops with “the necessary communications, feedback and weapons deliveries.”
The head of Chechnya also pointed out that only last July, Lapin had been awarded a Hero of Russia title and a “golden star” for taking Lysychansk – when in reality, according to Kadyrov, Lapin “was nowhere near” the action. Kadyrov openly called Lapin a “mediocrity” who takes advantage of being liked by the General Command. Lamenting “army nepotism,” Kadyrov urged decisive measures, including a tactical nuclear strike on Ukraine.
Kadyrov’s remarks were quickly picked up by Evgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Private Military Company, whose PMC is actively involved in Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine. Even before the mobilization, Prigozhin was aggressively recruiting servicemen among the incarcerated – despite the fact that this is unlawful in Russia.
“Kadyrov’s expressive statement is not at all my style,” Prigozhin wrote on the website of his catering company, Concord. “But I can say this: ‘Beautiful, Ramzan, keep it up.’ These punks should be shipped to the front barefoot with machine guns.”
This wasn’t the first instance when Ramzan Kadyrov would criticize Russia’s Defense Ministry – and Prigozhin would promptly express his agreement. On Sept. 24, for example, the Chechen leader urged that 50 percent of the Russian law-enforcement troops be sent to the front. Immediately, Prigozhin said that Kadyrov was right.
Two of Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin think that this is no coincidence. They believe that Kadyrov and Prigozhin both belong to the radical wing of the so-called “war party” – those members of the Russian government who advocate for the invasion and, strategically, for escalation. According to one of our sources,
Another source noted that, even before the invasion, Prigozhin and Shoigu got into an “unprintable” argument at one of the Defense Ministry’s meetings. In recent years, Prigozhin also lost a large share of his government contracts with the ministry.
As for Ramzan Kadyrov, he has repeatedly pointed out that the Chechen units of the Russian army fight much better than the rest of it, and stand ready “to take Kiev tomorrow, if Putin so orders.”
Meduza’s sources also note that the Kremlin made no attempt to rebuke either Kadyrov or Prigozhin for their criticisms of the Defense Ministry. “The President considers the Chechen battalions’ and Prigozhin’s work quite effective,” emphasized a source close to the President’s Office.
Two sources, one of them close to the Kremlin, and the other to the federal government, explain that, in light of recent military failures, Putin is “interested in alternative warfare methods” — and in people who can offer them. Prigozhin and Kadyrov are of interest to Putin for that reason. As one of our sources put it, the president “likes these people from the front, ‘real people’. Prigozhin and Kadyrov fit that description — or try to fit.”
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Meduza’s sources also say that Kadyrov’s and Prigozhin’s criticisms of the army are silently supported by “a group of ambitious young FSO-men” — that is, Putin’s former security officers, the Governor of Tula Alexey Dyumin and the former head of the Yaroslavl region, Dmitry Mironov, who is now an assistant to the President. According to sources close to the President’s Office, Mironov and Dyumin often talk and meet in person. Sources in the Yaroslavl and Tula regions confirm this information.
A source in Tula’s regional administration points out that, even before the war, Evgeny Prigozhin collaborated with the local government – for example, by bringing political consultants to manage elections. The Insider (a media project deemed a “foreign agent” and “undesirable” in Russia) has also written about Dyumin’s connection to Prigozhin.
According to two sources close to the President’s Office, Ramzan Kadyrov got to know both Dyumin and Prigozhin when they were still Putin’s bodyguards. Apparently, Kadyrov was friendly with both of them – and even called Dyumin his “elder brother.”
Sources also suggest that both Dyumin and Mironov may be interested in undermining the Defense Ministry. The army’s faltering at the front, it is proposed, could help them advance in their own careers. In the past, both of them worked in the Federal Security Service (FSO), but they also held significant posts in the law enforcement. Mironov was once the deputy head of the Interior Ministry (MVD). Dyumin was once second to Shoigu in the Ministry of Defense. According to two sources close to the Kremlin, Dyumin and Shoigu did not get along: Shoigu, it appears, suspected that Dyumin might scheme to take his place. It was Shoigu, according to one of our sources, who had Dyumin finally dispatched to Tula.
It used to be thought that Alexey Dyumin and Dmitry Mironov were made to fill some large-ish “shoes” as regional governors, in order to return to Moscow later as ministers. In 2017, Dyumin was even considered a possible successor to Putin. But neither of them have yet been offered a minister’s position – or even a significant promotion.
Two of our sources close to the Kremlin think that Dyumin might hope to return to the Defense Ministry as Shoigu’s replacement. Kadyrov and Prigozhin, sources believe, would support this rearrangement, since Dyumin would give Prigozhin new government contracts, and Kadyrov might expect that a new defense minister would start acting more forcefully in Ukraine, perhaps by attacking the critical infrastructure there.
The probability of these staffing changes is not very high, even though they’re being discussed in the Kremlin, our sources say. They also think that Putin remains “conservative in making staffing decisions,” even in light of his military failures. It is doubted that he would make radical changes at a time when the Defense Ministry is publicly under attack.
As of the moment of this publication, Alexey Dyumin’s, Dmitry Mironov’s and Ramzan Kadyrov’s staff had not responded to Meduza’s queries. The presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov also made no reply; but Evgeny Prigozhin stated that he really does think that the people responsible for the retreat from Lyman are “punks” – without specifying who those people might, in fact, be. Prigozhin also said that, when he encouraged Kadyrov by saying “beautiful, Ramzan,” he only meant to wish him “good health and further flourishing.”