Military changes, conflicting statements… A Clash in the corridors of the Kremlin
The head of the Wagner Company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, announced late Tuesday evening the fall of the town of Solidar in Donetsk region.
Only a short while later, pictures of him with his fighters went viral, which pro-Russian bloggers said were taken in the town’s salt mines.
On the ground, controlling Solidar will allow the Russian forces to secure the only highway that leads to Bakhmut to the south, and this means that the Russian army’s control of the town will cut off supplies to the Ukrainian army in Bakhmut, Moscow’s next target.
Western experts underestimate Solidar’s strategic importance, but that’s another discussion.
Although still it’s difficult to verify the authenticity of the pictures nor the news spread regarding Russian Wagner controlling the town of Solidar, it’s a fascinating how the Wagner leader markets himself as the commander who visits his fighters on the front, just as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did previously.
This wasn’t the first time Prigozhin had done something like this, he had done it many times before.
Somewhere in Donetsk last week, Prigozhin, who never misses an opportunity to market himself, told his fighters that once we overcome the internal bureaucracy in Russia and corruption, we will invade the Ukrainians and NATO.
Yevgeny Prigozhin considered to be close to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, takes the opportunity every time to criticize the ruling military elite.
There are many who said that Prigozhin presents himself as a successor to Putin through what he did in Solidar, while observers said that he wants to show his military group as an effective and essential force in the war, especially since he said on Tuesday evening that the attack on Solidar didn’t involve any forces other than Wagner.
Other analysts have said that Prigozhin is fighting his own war in Ukraine after he has mocked in the past the corruption and corrupt and incompetent hierarchy in Russia’s military.
The data indicates a conflict between Prigozhin and the Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, who is also close to Putin, over defense contracts.
The Prigozhin considered the Shoigu the head of corruption.
Also, in the recent period, the commander of the Russian army was subjected to severe and rare internal popular criticism after the Makievka missile strike that killed dozens of Russian soldiers.
In a statement consistent with the statement of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, and in a very strange irony, the Kremlin stressed on Wednesday morning the importance of not rushing to declare victory in Solidar, in a veiled message to the Wagner Group and its leader.
The Russian Ministry of Defense, for its part, said that the battles are ongoing.
The conflicting statements from Russia show once again that the tension between Wagner and the Ministry of Defense continues.
In the past, the Wagner leader has publicly criticized Russian army generals, officials and the elite in the Russian Defense Ministry saying they are detached from the realities of the war in Ukraine.
In somewhat surprising news, the Russian Defense Ministry announced the appointment of General Valery Gerasimov as commander of military operations in Ukraine on Wednesday.
General Valery Gerasimov is one of the most prominent close associates of Shoigu, who doesn’t have a good relationship with Wagner leader, as previously indicated.
Officially, the Russian Defense Ministry said that the switch took place due to the increased tasks to be accomplished and the need for closer connections and high coordination between the branches of the Russian army.
However, General Gerasimov will fill the position of General Sergei Surovikin, who was only a few months ago (October 8-2022) appointed commander of military operations in Ukraine, and he’s close to Prigozhin.
On Tuesday, the Russian state TASS news agency said General Alexander Lapin had been appointed chief of staff of the Russian Ground Forces.
General Lapin was one of Prigozhin’s victims in the past, as the leader of the Wagner Group criticized him severely.
Experts believe that Lapin’s appointment to that senior position is a message to Prigozhin, stating: “Don’t mess with the army”.
Certainly, the praises that Russian bloggers heaped on the Wagner leader don’t impress the Ministry of Defense.
One of them said that Prigozhin opens a new chapter in the history of the Russian military, as it is the first time that a private military network has demonstrated its importance in a very complex war.
What cannot be known until now is The Russian president, Vladimir Putin’s position on what is really going on.
Does he support the side of the military foundation?
Or that he supports the leader of Wagner.
There are no indications of the position of the master of the Kremlin at all in this regard.
On the other hand, there are those who say that Prigozhin’s goals aren’t only military.
A senior US official told Reuters that the Wagner leader was willing to sacrifice a thousand men in order to control the salt and gypsum mines in Solidar and around Bakhmut.
The US official added that the financial motive may explain Prigozhin’s obsession with controlling the region, which the latter denied through his Telegram, speaking of historical epics that his forces control.
It’s known that Bakhmut salt deposits are huge and of high purity.
The United States has previously accused Russian mercenaries of exploiting natural resources in African countries, including the Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan, to help fund Moscow’s war in Ukraine.