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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

"Grandpa Vlad" — Wagner Boss Prigozhin Is Now Mocking Putin Directly

Head of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin's furious videos have been aimed in the past at Putin's deputies and generals. Now, he's taking aim at the tsar himself.

"Grandpa Vlad" — Wagner Boss Prigozhin Is Now Mocking Putin Directly

Prigozhin makes his latest plea

Video screenshot
Pierre Haski


What exactly is Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, up to? This question has been on everyone's minds for months, but now he has truly crossed a line.

Prigozhin was already engaged in open conflict with top military brass and even the Russian Defense Minister. However, Tuesday, he launched a direct attack on Vladimir Putin himself, depicting him as a comical "grandfather" in a video meant to ridicule him. He specifically chose to do it on Victory Day, the day of the anniversary of Russia’s triumph over Nazism, just as Putin was preparing to preside over the parade on Red Square.

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In the video, Prigozhin theatrically portrays his ongoing conflict with Russian military authorities. Despite having no military background, the corpulent Prigozhin dresses in military fatigues and a bulletproof vest, with Kalashnikov magazines visibly strapped to his belly.

He narrates receiving a menacing letter from the Russian Ministry of Defense, threatening him with charges of "treason" if he were to withdraw his troops from Bakhmut, the Ukrainian city he has been striving to capture for weeks.

Prigozhin once again complains bitterly about not receiving the urgently requested ammunition from his arch-enemies within the system: General Gerasimov, the Army Chief, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

What is driving him to target Putin directly? This is where the situation gets tricky. Until now, one could have assumed that Vladimir Putin was skillfully playing the power struggles within his inner circle to his advantage.

However, Wagner’s boss claims in this video that Russian soldiers have abandoned their positions due to the "idiocy of their commanders." He takes direct aim at "grandfather" Putin, subjecting him to a series of insults. In any other conventional army, such an act would be deemed insubordination during wartime. Surprisingly, in Russia, it is not.

Russian infighting

Prigozhin undeniably occupies a unique place within Putin's realm. His trajectory is well-known, having been associated with the Kremlin leader since their shared past in St. Petersburg. Prigozhin was even known as "Putin's chef." Subsequently, his creation of Wagner, an organization involved in disinformation campaigns and employing mercenaries, further solidified his prominence.

Wagner has undeniably become one of the Kremlin's armed extensions.

This story highlights the unusual nature of this scenario. Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, Putin denied any affiliation with Wagner when speaking to French President Emmanuel Macron. However, there is no longer any room for ambiguity in Ukraine, or in other areas of conflict, such as the Sahel region of northern Africa. Wagner has undeniably become one of the Kremlin's armed extensions.

Furthermore, it sheds light on how Putin's strategic system works, and its ability to manipulate various actors. One day it's Prigozhin, the next day it's Ramzan Kadyrov's Chechen army, who volunteer to replace Wagner in Bakhmut. And then, it's the regular Russian army, leaving us wondering how it can operate amid this turbulence.

Prigozhin is often believed to have grander political ambitions, perhaps even seeking to take on the role of a tsar. This likely explains his continued attacks against his rivals. However, taking aim directly at Putin is highly unusual. The dysfunction at the highest levels of the system is both a reflection and source of Russia's challenges on the ground.

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How Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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