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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Wagner Group sees Kremlin officials as ‘next target’ for scapegoat: ISW

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed Thursday he received a question from a Russian news agency about talks among Kremlin leaders to “neutralize” his mercenary group.

However, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reports that it “found no information to suggest these talks took place”.

Prigozhin’s private army played a crucial role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, particularly in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advance towards the city of Bakhmut. Since January, however, Prigozhin has had a growing feud with Russian leaders as the two forces debated gaining credit for capturing Soledar, a town in eastern Ukraine.

In its latest assessment, the ISW reported on a “request for comment” published by Prigozhin’s press service on Telegram on Thursday, allegedly sent by the Russian news agency to the Wagner boss, Nezavisimaya Gazeta. In the comment request, the newspaper writes that its political editor Ivan Rodin is “concerned about” Prigozhin based on “declassified data” on talks between Putin and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.

“The press commentary alleges that information about these discussions was recently circulated on Russian and Ukrainian Telegram channels, and alleges that Patrushev suggested to Putin that in ‘one and a half to two months’ there will be ‘nothing’ left of Wagner,” the ISW wrote in his rating.

Despite the claims, the ISW has observed no evidence that the discussion took place among Kremlin leaders, including none of it Nezavisimaya Gazeta suggesting that the request was ever sent. news week has emailed Nezavisimaya Gazeta for comment.

“The lack of external corroboration on the matter suggests that Prigozhin fabricated the alleged plot to advance multiple information operations in the name of Wagner and his own reputation,” the think tank said.

ISW added that Prigozhin appears to be laying the groundwork for blaming Patrushev for the failures of the Wagner group and possible crackdowns the group may face, as well as for fabricating a scenario in which Wagner poses a domestic threat to Russia represents.

“These efforts appear to be the next evolution of Prigozhin’s campaign against the Russian military establishment, and Patrushev may become Prigozhin’s next target after his concerted information campaigns against the Russian Defense Ministry and the Russian General Staff,” ISW reported.

Prigozhin has frequently criticized the Russian leadership and recently claimed that he was cut off from the Russian government’s communications channels, a sign of possible retaliation by the Kremlin over public criticism.

However, Jason Jay Smart, special correspondent for the Kyiv Postpreviously told news week that the Wagner leader is probably getting away with his repeated attacks on the Kremlin, probably due to some sort of agreement between him and the Russian leadership.

“He’s not going to attack the government the way he’s attacking it unless he has official clearance,” Smart said. “You can’t just go out there and say what he says.”

Smart added that it is possible that Putin is trying to blame Russia’s failures in Ukraine on his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has faced the harshest criticism from Prigozhin.

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