"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.
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.
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.
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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