Wagner chief’s ‘crazy’ feud with defence chief proves Putin ‘not in control’

Ukraine: Prigozhin says ‘not enough is being done’ by Russia

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s relentless targeting of Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Minister of Defence, including actually calling for his execution, suggests Vladimir Putin is ‘not really in control’, a British expert in Russian politics has said.

Owen Matthews believes while it is too early to regard the Wagner Group founder as a serious rival to the Russian President, his military credentials inevitably raise questions about how many troops would back him in the event of a civil war.

Prigozhin has made headlines in recent weeks with a series of caustic criticisms of the senior Russian figures including Shoigu, one of those he has suggested should face the death penalty.

Shoigu earlier this week said all Private Military Companies (PMCs), including Wagner, would be placed under the command of the Russian army, a suggestion angrily rejected by 62-year-old Prigozhin.

Mr Matthews, whose book, Overreach: The Inside Story of Putin’s War Against Ukraine, was published earlier this month, told Express.co.uk: “What’s going on is basically a complete absence of leadership from the Kremlin.

“It’s incredible in a country which literally puts people in jail for Facebook posts, that you have a man with a private army, who’s regularly, publicly, bitterly, criticising the way the war’s being fought.

“And furthermore, he’s actually literally calling for the trial and execution of Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. I mean, that’s completely hair-raising crazy s*** and it just shows that the Putin is not really in control.”

Putin’s “management style” had always been to have subordinates “competing among themselves”, but the infighting witnesses in recent months was on a completely different level, Mr Matthews claimed.

He explained: “The fact that Prigozhin even still walks the Earth is extraordinary to me.

“The least surprising piece of news in the world would be Yevgeny Prigozhin getting murdered.

“But nonetheless, what he represents is something incredibly scary, because what he’s saying is ‘the Ukrainians are tough, they’re well-armed, they’re very well motivated, the Ukrainians are a formidable enemy, and right now we’re losing’. He says that publicly.

“But Prigozhin’s solution is not to give up, rollover and make peace – his solution is to announce a general mobilisation, put the whole country on a war footing, actually escalate the war in order to win it.

“And so in other words, he’s criticising not just Shoigu but also indirectly Putin, albeit he is quite careful to keep the word Putin out of his mouth.

“Nonetheless, the clear implication is that he’s criticising the Kremlin for going too soft on this whole operation.”

Referring to the jailed, pro-democracy dissident, Mr Matthews said: “That kind of ultra-nationalist, orthodox fundamentalist opposition to Putin, the ultra hawks, are far more dangerous than Alexander Navalny types.

“The implication is pretty clear – he is criticising the Kremlin, and Putin himself.

“There is a long-standing historical tradition in Russia, you don’t criticise the Tsar, you criticise the Tsar’s ministers, because the Tsar is this sort of semi-godlike figure that’s supposedly above private politics.

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“But clearly, Prigozhin feels that the state is not actually fulfilling its most basic role, which is protecting the Russian people from attack.

“And, as we’ve seen, we literally have some parts of Belgorod province that are still notionally under occupation by these Ukrainian-backed Russian militants.”

”So far, we haven’t really seen any kind of serious response from Putin.

“I mean, he appears fairly regularly but from what he says he’s clearly grossly misinformed and totally deluded about the war.”

Prigozhin could not be regarded as a figure of the Kremlin establishment – but neither should he be underestimated, Mr Matthews stressed.

He said: “He’s been on the frontlines, he’s been under fire, he’s really in the thick of it.

“He’s amazingly articulate, for a guy who basically sort of taught himself, he speaks really excellent, grammatical, very cultured Russian.

“But he also sort of speaks to ordinary Russians and his message is, ‘these Kremlin elite mother******s are just like sitting in fancy offices and sending your sons to be butchered, and screwing it up.”

He added: “He’s an ex-convict and a chef and a billionaire caterer who commands 50,000 men who were paid from the Russian state budget.

“So he’s no match for the gigantic might of the Russian state. But the question is, how much of the Russian army would go with Prigozhin if it came to a choice?

“Would they choose Prigozhin in a civil war-type situation, although we’re obviously still a long way from that.

“Right now, I don’t think Prigozhin is a serious contender for the Kremlin, but the fact that you essentially have the commander of a private army, that feels he can criticise the Defence Minister with total impunity is a sign of really serious disorganisation and weakness.”

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