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‘Security forces will put a stop to it’ Meduza’s sources say the Kremlin is losing patience with Evgeny Prigozhin’s outbursts
In recent weeks, Wagner paramilitary cartel founder Evgeny Prigozhin has begun publicly denouncing Russia’s military leadership more frequently and more furiously than ever before. In a May 5 video addressing Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov, Prigozhin released a stream of obscenities, accusing the men of letting Russians die so they could “get fat in their offices of rich mahogany.” Four days later, on Tuesday, he posted a much longer video, this time accusing a Russian army unit of abandoning its positions in Bakhmut before referring to a “happy grandpa” who’s failing to save his country. Meduza has learned from sources close to the Putin administration that Kremlin officials are running out of patience for Prigozhin’s erratic behavior, which might be the result of his inability to keep a “personal promise” he made to the president.
Wagner Group founder Evgeny Prigozhin’s recent criticisms of the Russian Defense Ministry and statements about the situation on the front have begun to “seriously concern the country’s senior leadership,” Meduza has learned from two sources close to the Kremlin.
Prigozhin’s public attacks against the agency have been a frequent occurrence since early May 2023 (though they began much earlier). On May 5, the catering tycoon demanded the Defense Ministry give him the ammunition necessary for Wagner Group to continue fighting in Bakhmut, threatening to withdraw his fighters from their positions five days later if his request was denied. On May 6, Chechnya Governor Ramzan Kadyrov asked Vladimir Putin to send his Akhmat battalion to replace the Wagner forces in Bakhmut, a proposal for which Prigozhin expressed approval.
The next day, Prigozhin reported that the Russian Defense Ministry had agreed to provide him with ammunition after all and that Wagner Group would remain in Bakhmut. A day later, however, he posted a 27-minute video in which he said his forces had received just 10 percent of the equipment he had requested and began threatening Russia’s military leadership once again. He also alleged that a Russian Armed Forces unit in Bakhmut had “abandoned” its positions there.
The most widely-discussed part of Prigozhin’s rant, however, was one in which he referred disparagingly to a “happy grandpa”:
There are people who fight, and there are people who learned at some point in their lives that they should have reserves — and they hoard, hoard, hoard these reserves. And instead of spending a shell, killing the enemy, saving the life of our soldier, they kill our soldiers.
Meanwhile, the happy grandpa thinks he’s doing well. And what’s the country supposed to do next? If he turns out to be right, God bless everyone. But what should the country do, what should our children, our grandchildren, the future of Russia do, and how will we win this war, if suddenly — and I’m just speculating here — it turns out that this grandpa is a complete dickhead?
Sources close to the Putin administration have told Meduza that Kremlin officials view Prigozhin’s statements about the Russian Defense Ministry as a “serious threat.” One source said that Prigozhin is currently acting “not as part of the same team and not out of the same interests” as the Russian authorities.
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“He has his own project, Bakhmut, and he’s currently doing everything for its sake. But that’s a personal project, aimed at giving him more influence over the Defense Ministry, so that Wagner becomes the main force behind the victory,” said the source.
Prigozhin’s statement about the “happy grandpa” was received even more negatively in the Kremlin, according to the source. “He can say later on, of course, that he was talking about [Defense Minister Sergey] Shoigu or some theoretical layman, but we know what conclusions people will draw,” he said. One source believes that Prigozhin was indeed talking about Putin, but another said that the statement can’t be considered a “direct attack” on the president.
Meduza’s sources close to the Putin administration said Prigozhin’s behavior may be linked to a “personal promise” he made to Vladimir Putin that Wagner Group would capture Bakhmut by a certain date. The sources don’t know exactly when this date would be, but they speculated that Prigozhin might be “missing the deadline” and is nervous as a result. The Ukrainian military previously reported that pro-Russian forces hoped to take control of Bakhmut by May 9 (which they failed to do).
“Because of this personal promise, he’s throwing the regular troops under the bus and making provocative statements. It’s unconventional behavior,” one source said. Multiple sources told Meduza that Prigozhin has crossed a “red line” with his statements.
According to the sources, the paramilitary cartel leader’s actions could get him into serious trouble, his close links to Russia’s top leadership notwithstanding. His “protectors,” the sources told Meduza, include Russian National Guard Director Viktor Zolotov as well as Tula Governor and former Putin bodyguard Alexey Dyumin. Until recently, billionaire and longtime Putin ally Yury Kovalchuk also counted himself among Prigozhin’s defenders, but according to Meduza’s sources, he’s begun distancing himself from the Wagner Group founder.
A source from one of Russia’s state-run media agencies told Meduza that the country’s propaganda agencies have already received a “warning” from the Putin administration that if Prigozhin continues criticizing the Defense Ministry and reporting “failures on the front,” journalist should begin “portraying him as a traitor” to Russia. The Washington Post has previously reported that the Russian Defense Ministry began preparing materials for a negative publicity campaign against Prigozhin but was ultimately unable to organize it. Now, according to Meduza’s source, a similar campaign is being prepared by the presidential administration in case “Prigozhin continues to break ranks.”
At the same time, Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin said they don’t think the authorities will stop at a smear campaign: “As long as Wagner is [at the front], there’s little that can threaten Prigozhin; he has the ability to enter into direct dialogue with the president. But if this continues, official security forces will certainly put a stop to it.”
Evgeny Prigozhin himself declined to answer Meduza’s questions, including one about which “grandpa” he was referring to in his video: “I’ve already said repeatedly that I don’t give comments to enemy outlets. As soon as I get these questions from an unbiased Russian outlet, I’ll be happy to answer them.” (Prigozhin has commented on several of Meduza’s articles before.)
In a statement to the TV network RTVI, Prigozhin said that when he used the word “grandpa,” he wasn’t referring to Putin but to one of three people: former Deputy Defense Minister for Logistics Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, Russian Army General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov, and pro-government activist Natalya Khim, who has been fighting with the armed forces of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” for several years. Prigozhin didn’t explain why he would use the word “grandpa” to refer to Khim, a 34-year-old woman.
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