Prigozhin’s interview with military blogger and pro-Kremlin political observer Konstantin Dolgov, was typically blunt, profane, and highly critical of Putin’s hand-picked military and defense leaders. He “accused Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff Valery Gerasimov of unprofessionalism and corruption that led to troop losses in Ukraine,” according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Prigozhin has criticized Russia’s military brass before for living in the lap of luxury in Moscow and allowing their children to drive around in expensive Mercedes Benz automobiles and vacation in the Gulf while Russian soldiers, including Prigozhin’s own Wagner Group troops, die on the battlefield. “My advice to the Russian elites — get your lads, send them to war, and when you go to the funeral, when you start burying them, people will say that now everything is fair.”
Prigozhin said that Russia’s failing war in Ukraine could drive Russians into such despair that Russia could end up going through "what happened in 1917, with a revolution — when first the soldiers rise up, and then their loved ones follow.” Prigozhin appeared to be referring to the mass defections of Russian soldiers in World War I that led to the Russian Revolution. He has been salty in his criticism of the way Putin’s pet defense officials have led the war, but never to this extent: “We are at such a point that we could fucking lose Russia -- that is the main problem. We need to impose martial law,” Prigozhin practically shouted at his interviewer. “We unfortunately must announce new waves of mobilization and put everyone who is capable to work on increasing the production of ammunition. Russia needs to live like North Korea for a few years, so to say, close the borders and work hard.”
Prigozhin bragged about his Wagner Group’s defeat of Ukrainian forces in the taking of Bakhmut, but continued to lay on his criticism of Putin’s military commanders for failing to supply his soldiers with adequate quantities of ammunition and other supplies. Coming close to being critical of Putin himself – an offense punishable by death if he had stepped an inch or over the line – Prigozhin reminded Russian listeners that the invasion in February of 2022 had been promoted as a strike to “de-Nazify” Ukraine and “demilitarize” the country.
Instead, Russia has ended up with a situation where its neighbor’s army is “one of the most powerful in the world.” As a nation, Prigozhin lamented, Ukraine has been turned into “a nation known to the entire world.”
Putin had complained for years about NATO’s push to the east, enrolling most of Russia’s former Eastern Bloc in the alliance. In a two-hour rant justifying the war two days before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Putin claimed his seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and the coming invasion would block NATO from coming any closer to Russia’s borders.
In the interview yesterday, Prigozhin seemed unconvinced. Referring to Ukraine’s army, he bellowed, “If they, figuratively speaking, had 500 tanks at the beginning of the special operation, now they have 5,000. If they had 20,000 fighters who knew how to fight, now they have 400,000. How did we ‘demilitarize’ it? Now it turns out that we militarized it — hell knows how.”
“Hell,” in Prigozhin’s crafty verbal construction, appears to be President Putin.
Near the end of the interview, Prigozhin seemed to throw down a challenge for Russia’s military leaders such as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. He announced that his Wagner Group would be pulling out of Bakhmut to rest, replenish its severely diminished ranks with new recruits, and await the next phase of the war. His clear implication was that having taken Bakhmut for Russia, now it was the turn of Russia’s regular army to hold it.
Ukraine has vowed to take back Bakhmut, perhaps as the first move in its long-advertised spring offensive. If that happens, and Russian regular soldiers turn and run as they did last September when Ukraine re-took most of Kharkiv province, the door will be open for Prigozhin to accuse Putin’s army of “losing Bakhmut.” Prigozhin is well aware that won’t go over well in a country that has staked much of its reputation on not losing Stalingrad to the Nazis in World War II.
Prigozhin said he did not “have much faith in the optimistic scenario” that the West will tire of its support for Ukraine, setting the stage for some kind of peace deal that Putin could try to sell as a victory. He even went so far as to speculate that Ukraine’s coming offensive could succeed in driving Russian forces back to the sliver of eastern Ukraine they have held since 2014 when Putin seized Crimea and declared that Crimea and the parts of Ukraine close to the border were now Russian lands.
Hardly a master of understatement, Prigozhin was left to lament, “Most likely this scenario will not be good for us, so we need to prepare for a difficult war.”
Folks, Yevegeny Prigozhin’s interview amounts to his announcement that he’s running against Putin to become dictator-in-chief. Buckle up. The war has just spread politically from Ukraine into Russia itself.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
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