Wagner’s Prigozhin is ‘getting ambitious’ says Soldatov
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A key ally of Vladimir Putin could face a “cruel end” if he is unable to cement his position among Kremlin elites. Yevgeny Prigozhin is the founder of the Wagner militia group and is a close confidante of the Russian President. His mercenaries have been at the forefront of the intense fighting that has been raging in Donbas around the city of Bakhmut.
His militia group appears to be playing an increasingly more important role in Russia’s Ukraine war.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence estimated that Prigozhin’s forces could number as many as 50,000 fighters.
The 61-year-old has recently been vocal in his criticisms of Russia’s Minister of Defence, Sergey Shoigu and those in charge of Putin’s army.
The attacks have prompted many Kremlin commentators to suggest that Prigozhin may one day replace Shoigu as the Defence Minister – a move that would offer him considerable political influence.
A local politician from Saint Petersburg, the home city of Prigozhin, told Express.co.uk that it was essential for the Wagner boss to secure an official political position to protect his wealth and prevent his many enemies from getting rid of him.
Dmitry Palyuga, a Yabloko Party councillor from the Smolninskoye municipality, explained: “He needs to secure some position in Putin’s system because right now who is Prigozhin?
Prigozhin on the front line in Bakhmut (Image: Telegram)
Prigozhin is the boss of the Wagner militia (Image: Getty)
“He’s just a businessman and a businessman with his own army. They all exist – Prigozhin and his army – just because Putin needs them – that’s it.
“Once Putin doesn’t need them, any power structure in Russia would be happy to somehow get rid of Prigozhin, I suppose because nobody needs any alternative army.”
He added: “If he is not able to secure some official position in Russia, I think his end will be very cruel to him.
“That’s why I think he has to have some political game right now. He has to show Putin that he is effective and that he can probably substitute the Minister of Defence, Shoigu.”
Prigozhin tried to take the lion’s share of credit for the fall of Soledar last week, a town situated 11 miles north east of Bakhmut.
He has become a hero to many of those in the pro-war camp inside Russia.
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Prigozhin is said to be a close confidante of Putin (Image: Getty)
Ukrainian artillery opens fire on Russian positions (Image: Ukraine General Staff)
Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, called the businessman and his Wagner militia “Russia’s national treasure” and claimed they were becoming a “symbol of victory”.
However, Mr Palyuga does not believe that the Wagner boss enjoys wide public support in Russia.
He said: “He is popular among some Russian marginals. He’s not really popular.
“His power is that he is an evil person and he can say it publicly that ‘yes, I am doing some evil stuff but if I don’t do it then we will lose’.
“That is something which other Russian politicians still cannot afford to say because they cannot say ‘yeah, we are evil’.
“But Prigozhin has that opportunity to say that right now, so he can attract some people but not many of them.”
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Dmitry Palyuga has been forced to leave Russia for his own safety (Image: Facebook Dmitry Palyuga)
Mr Palyuga shot to prominence earlier in September, when he and a group of fellow councillors urged Russia’s parliament to charge Putin with treason in an unprecedented and courageous act of political protest.
Since then , he has been forced to leave the country for his own protection, but still works as a councillor from abroad.
Explaining his decision to leave, he said: “After we made our appeal to the State Duma about Putin, we started to receive some messages from those who know people from the power structures.
“They advised us that we had better leave the country – that we would be searched and prosecuted sometime in the future.
“I managed to live with that for a while but then the mobilisation started and the combination of those two factors made me think of leaving the country even though I didn’t want to leave.”