Russian President Vladimir Putin and the notorious paramilitary unit, the Wagner Group, founded by his ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, are clashing over the capture of the salt mining town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, according to the Institute for the Study of Warfare. (ISW). .
Tensions between the Wagner Group, which provides soldiers for hire, and Russia’s Defense Ministry appeared to rise on Friday, when Putin blamed the success in Soledar on the ministry.
The Russian president did not mention the role of the Wagner Group in the fighting, although Prigozhin’s forces have been leading Defense Ministry troops in the region, which lies nine miles north of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region. .
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Friday credited its artillery, aviation and missile forces in the capture of Soledar.
The move led Russian billionaire Prigozhin to accuse the ministry of trying to minimize the role of the Wagner Group in Soledar’s capture and belittling its achievements.
Shortly after, the Ministry of Defense issued a statement praising the “courageous and selfless action” of the men hired by the paramilitary group.
In its latest assessment of the war in Ukraine, ISW, a US-based think tank, said Monday that Putin had credited his defense ministry live on state-controlled television.
It was “likely a deliberate effort to undermine Prigozhin’s influence within the Russian information space, given that Putin has previously refrained from commenting on tactical developments in Ukraine,” the think tank said.
“Putin may also have tried to show that he retains control over traditional Russian media, while Prigozhin continues to increase his audience on Telegram and other social networks,” ISW assessed.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded Monday to reports of an ongoing rift, shutting down the reports as “products of information manipulations.”
Peskov said Russia recognized both the Defense Ministry troops and the Wagner fighters as heroes, saying “both will forever be in our memory.”
“As for any conflicts, these are mainly products of information manipulations, which, well, sometimes are fixed by our information opponents, but sometimes our friends behave in such a way that those enemies are not needed,” he said.
“Everyone is fighting for their country. This is how it should look.”
Peskov’s statement “may have been tacitly directed at Prigozhin, whose criticism of the Russian Defense Ministry is becoming more brazen,” ISW said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has continued to deny that Russian forces have completely taken Soledar. On Tuesday, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Military Command, Serhiy Cherevatyi, reiterated during a television broadcast that Ukrainian forces were holding out, local news outlet Ukrinform reported.
Prigozhin made headlines in the fall of 2022 for his harsh criticism of the Russian Defense Ministry and its boss, Sergei Shoigu, over Moscow’s battlefield setbacks.
Vlad Mykhnenko, an expert on the post-communist transformation of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union at the UK’s Oxford University, previously said news week who believes that Prigozhin feels that the war is not going “according to plan” and that Putin is losing control.
Prigozhin could be “making backup plans for when Putin decides to resign or is ousted,” he said.
news week has contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.
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