Yevgeny Prigozhin (left) and Ramzan Kadyrov
Russia’s military leadership is facing intense criticism over the almost stalled war against Ukraine. Two prominent outspoken leaders who have questioned the Russian military leadership are Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the mercenaries’ group Wagner. This is the reason why both are also very important.
Interestingly, both of them are not formally heads of any military wing or security agencies of Russia. Despite this, the two have also been allowed to simultaneously criticize Russian military commanders and praise each other’s views.
The current conflict with Ukraine has seriously damaged the dominant image of the Russian military. Russian state TV announced that the Russian army would occupy Ukraine in just three days, but it did not succeed in this and had to retreat in large areas along the border of Ukraine.
The newly appointed chief of the Russian military in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, so far can only claim to blow up Ukraine’s power stations.
Although these people have not been silenced after the criticism of these two people, nor is it seen as a question of their allegiance to Russia, it shows that Vladimir Putin is taking their views into account. are keeping.
General Alexander Lapin, one of the top Russian commanders in Ukraine, is being seen as an example. According to unconfirmed but detailed media reports, he was sacked last week.
Ramzan Kadyrov had held him responsible for the recent defeat, calling him a “talented commander” just two days ago. Kadyrov also blamed Lapin for the ouster of the northeastern city of Leyman in early October.
The Chechnya leader said on social media that General Lapin should be removed from his post and “sent to the frontline as an ordinary citizen and pay for this shame by sacrificing him.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin is also criticizing the Russian military. He has demanded that the prisoners sentenced in Russian prisons be deployed in the war in Ukraine.
In such a situation, it is being speculated that without permission from the top level, no one can make such criticism.
Yevgeny praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, describing him as a “solid, confident, practical and likeable personality”.
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Who are Prigozhin and Kadyrov?
Yevgeny Prigozhin first became known as ‘Putin’s chef’, apparently because he was in charge of supplying food and drink to official Kremlin events.
Yevgeny, a businessman from Russia’s second largest city, St Petersburg, is said to have known Vladimir Putin since the 1990s. This was the period when Putin worked in the mayor’s office and frequented Yevgeny’s restaurant, popular with local officials.
By the 2010s, several journalistic investigations had linked him to an alleged troll factory in St. Petersburg. The task of this troll factory was to discredit the political opposition of Russia and to create content praising the Putin regime and to run a campaign in this direction.
In 2016, according to an investigation by US Special Public Prosecutor Robert Mueller, the troll factory was part of Russia’s attempt to interfere in US presidential elections. Prigozhin, however, denied any affiliation with the troll factory.
For many years he also denied any affiliation with a mercenary recruiting company called the Wagner Group.
Wagner first emerged in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and its fighters have since appeared in Syria and several African countries. Most recently he admitted to being behind Wagner, one of the most dominant Russian units in the current war against Ukraine.
He has also been involved in public debate for years with St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov. He has even accused Beglov of “helping the Ukrainian army”.
Few of Putin’s allies are as loyal as Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov, who was chosen by the Russian leader in 2007 to rule the autonomous republic of the North Caucasus region.
Chechnya fought for independence from Russia in the 1990s, but it did not succeed. Under Kadyrov’s rule, Chechnya’s efforts for independence came to a halt while human rights abuses began in the region. Kadyrov’s private army, known as the Kadyrovtsi, has been widely accused of human rights violations.
He has been a vocal supporter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the very beginning. Not only this, he has also sent his Kadyrovtsi military units to Ukraine and claims that his fighters are among the best trained, bravest and brutal soldiers in the Russian military force.
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Prigozhin and Kadyrov
The fighters of Kadyrov’s personal army may be tough, but some analysts characterize them as TikTok soldiers, ie soldiers who are more interested in posting videos of their adventures on social media than actually fighting.
At the same time, human rights activists say that there are a large number of soldiers among the Chechnya soldiers who have been recruited against their wishes. According to the allegations, they have been recruited by threatening to extort or physical torture from the family members of these people.
The Putin regime has been appreciating his loyalty, an indication of this being his elevation from brigadier general to colonel general.
Why are both so important?
The two were never seen as collaborators before, but now Kadyrov and Prigozhin’s voices seem to be in harmony.
The Chechnya leader has described the St. Petersburg businessman as a “warrior by birth” and his Wagner mercenary as a “fearless patriot of Russia”. In response, Prigozin has said in a social media post, ‘Ramadan, you are at your best aggressive.’
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Both criticize the military establishment, which is represented by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his deputy and army chief General Valery Gerasimov. It is quite possible that both are trying to prove more credible to the top leadership by creating an environment of naming and shaming those responsible for the failures in Ukraine.
Political analysts believe that neither the Chechnya leader nor the Wagner chief can alone be as effective as they appear when they are together. Both are particularly unpopular among top government officials and both are seen as outsiders.
But if they join forces, the two could be in a position to challenge those closest to President Putin in the event of a disagreement.
Russian political analyst Abbas Galliamov says Kadyrov and Prigozhin’s behavior in a war-torn country is unusual.
“It appears that the vertical system of federalism established by President Putin is not working in the military where it is most needed,” he said.
According to Abbas Galliamov, it also reflects an atmosphere of chaos where commanders of different military units are arguing with each other instead of fighting as a team.
Experts at the American Institute for the Study of War believe that people close to President Putin are broadly divided into two factions. One group is in favor of stopping the war in order to save the assets left by the sanctions of Western countries and the other faction is in favor of continuing it.
Both of these influential people in Russia want the war to continue. Perhaps this is the message Russia’s top leaders are also eager to hear and that is why they have kept both of them close.
(with additional reporting by Andrei Zakharov and Ilya Barbanov)
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