Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of military company Wagner Group, paid his final respects to murdered Russian military blogger Vladren Tatarsky at his funeral in Moscow. Prigozhin, who heads the Wagner mercenary group, has directed his anger at military leaders and indirectly taken shots at President Putin, with his rants and insults creating public uproar. While some war experts say Russian leaders cannot target Prigozhin, the Kremlin can keep him in check through other means. The situation highlights the cracks and issues in the Ukrainian War, and Putin’s actions appear to have created a toxic environment where factions compete against each other.
Prigozhin’s Wagner forces play a key role in Russian combat operations in Ukraine but have suffered heavy casualties in the fierce fighting. Tensions between the Russian Ministry of Defense and Wagner’s bosses have resulted in Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu being blamed for the army’s shortage of ammunition and supplies. Wagner’s threats to withdraw their army if they don’t get the ammunition they needed, the release of military failures in the US and mocking Russia’s victory parade have angered Putin and the defense ministry.
While Putin seems to side with the defense ministry, Prigozhin’s ambitions are rumored to extend to politics. Putin cannot upset ultranationalist allies like Prigozhin, who controls a significant portion of Russia’s online information space. If Putin were to sever ties with Prigozhin entirely, he risks becoming more of a nuisance than help. Prigozhin’s successor may be chosen if his recruitment rate falls and the group declines in power.
Russia has already opened its doors to new private military companies that may replace Wagner Group. This situation underscores the tensions and complexities present in Russia’s military operations in Ukraine.