Paul Wood

Prigozhin’s bid for death or glory

(Photo by Arkady Budnitsky/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Up until this point, it was possible to believe that Putin was tolerating, or even orchestrating Yevgeny Prigozhin’s increasingly outspoken attacks on the military leadership and ‘the elites’ in Moscow. Vladimir Putin himself didn’t seem especially pleased with his generals. Only a few days ago, he turned his back on his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, at a ceremony to give medals to injured soldiers. The fact that this was broadcast on state television makes it all the more likely that this was a deliberate, icy snub. Putin is said to like to pit his subordinates against one another, the better to stop an obvious successor from emerging. But Prigozhin’s attacks on the military leadership have slowly but steadily turned into attacks on Putin as well.

Prigozhin was once a petty thief and served time in jail. He then reinvented himself as the Kremlin’s caterer of choice – ‘Putin’s chef’– and then again as the man running perhaps the world’s most notorious mercenary force, the Wagner Group. He was allowed to empty Russia’s prisons for recruits to join the Wagner Group’s war effort in Ukraine – a role that brought him into conflict with the ministry of defence, among others. The power struggle with the generals spilled out into the open during the costly war of attrition for the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut. Prigozhin accused the high command of deliberately starving Wagner of ammunition, naming the defence minister, Shoigu, and the chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov, as the guilty men. He called it an ‘an attempt to destroy PMC Wagner equal to treason’ and, to make his point, he posted a stark video of dozens of his men’s corpses piled up on the frozen ground. ‘Those who interfere with us…absolutely, directly work for the enemy, helping the enemy break Russia’s back.

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Written by
Paul Wood
Paul Wood was a BBC foreign correspondent for 25 years, in Belgrade, Athens, Cairo, Jerusalem, Kabul and Washington DC. He has won numerous awards, including two US Emmys for his coverage of the Syrian civil war

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