Two of Putin’s top army lieutenants have ‘openly declared war’ on Defense Minister and staunch Putin loyalist Sergei Shoigu after a series of embarrassing defeats for the Kremlin in Ukraine.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the founder of Wagner’s ‘private army’ or militia Yevgeny Prigozhin have turned on the minister amid heavy defeats and losses over the past two weeks. The Guardian reports.
It comes after Russia illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions including Donetsk and Luhansk in an announcement in which he gathered all of the country’s top leaders and told the world that the regions would ‘remain with Russia forever’.
But just 24 hours later, there was clear evidence that Ukraine was making major advances in the regions, reclaiming land that Putin had just claimed as part of Russia.
This week’s advances in southern and eastern Ukraine continued, prompting the two army chiefs to openly ‘declare war’ on the defense minister, who is an easy target to blame for Russia’s poor military performance.
The Kremlin is turning to increasingly desperate measures to save face and try to halt the Ukrainian advance, including recruiting prisoners straight out of prison and now open combat.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu speaks during a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday as senior figures declared war on him and his department
The founder of Putin’s private militia, or the Wagner Unit, Yevgeny Prigozhin has had a long-running feud with the defense minister
Chechnya’s regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov was among those who attended in Moscow and signed the treaties, which illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions on September 30
“Putin is a very destructive personality, he wants to play the different factions off each other and see what the best outcome will be,” a former defense ministry official told the Guardian.
‘He doesn’t know how to fix relationships, so in the end someone is going to be victimized. Putin just wants to see what is best for him and the war in Ukraine.’
The feud between Prigozhin and Shoigu is said to stretch back long before the start of the seven-month war in Ukraine, and is said to have started after Prigozhin formed the Wagner Unit during Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Former Wagner commander Marat Gabidullin told The Guardian: ‘On the current wave of patriotism, he wants to position himself as a fierce defender of the motherland who created a professional military organisation.
‘He wants to show that he can fight better than the regular army. We always had tension with the Ministry of Defence, we really didn’t like each other.’
Prigozhin is now said to have teamed up with Chechen leader Kadyrov in an attempt to oust the minister.
Kadyrov established the North Caucasus Republic in an attempt to ally himself closely with Putin, but has publicly turned against the Defense Ministry in recent weeks, becoming one of their staunchest critics.
He claims his soldiers could take Kyiv ‘within days’ even after the Russian army has been forced back.
Shortly after the Russian defeat last week at Lyman, a crucial railway junction in the Donetsk region, Kadyrov unleashed a withering attack on the Russian General Staff and on Central Military District Commander Alexander Lapin.
In a series of messages on Telegram last week, the unlikely duo teamed up to launch scathing attacks on defense strategy.
“The shame is not that Lapin is incompetent,” Kadyrov wrote.
‘It is that he is being shielded from above by the leadership of the General Staff.
‘If it were up to me, I’d knock him down to a private, take his medals and send him with a rifle to the front to wash his shame in blood.’
“Military nepotism will lead nowhere good,” he added.
Prigozhin added: ‘Beautiful, Ramzan, go on. These punks must be sent to the front barefoot with machine guns.’
Putin famously pits his underlings against each other — a cunning strategy that prevents anyone from becoming too ambitious for him, but also breeds bitter rivalries at a time when the nation looks increasingly foolish on the national stage.
Russia is now having to resort to increasingly desperate tactics, which include recruiting dangerous criminals directly from its prisons.
Footage circulating on social media along with interviews conducted by The Guardianshow Prigozhin himself visiting prisons across the country and offering convicts freedom if they fight in Ukraine for six months.
They are said to receive only one week of training and are warned that they are unlikely to return from the front line.
The measures are being pushed through against the backdrop of increasingly embarrassing defeats for the Kremlin.
Just this morning, hours after Putin’s 70th birthday, Ukrainian saboteurs were believed to be behind a major explosion which has destroyed part of the only bridge linking Crimea to Russia – threatening already stretched Russian supply and reinforcement lines .
Although Kiev has not claimed responsibility for the attack, one Ukrainian official boasted that ‘Putin should be happy. Not everyone gets such an expensive birthday present’ – a reference to the Russian president’s 70th birthday yesterday.