I’m totally out of my depth when it comes to internal Russian politics. But I know enough about which people are in their depth to know that something pretty serious is up. Yevgeny Prigozhin runs the Wagner group, something between a big Russian military contractor and a state-adjacent paramilitary. They played a big and fairly gruesome role in Syria and various other global hotspots where Russia is involved. Prigozhin, sometimes known as “Putin’s chef,” also happens to be the guy who ran a lot of the troll farms that sowed havoc in the 2016 election. Wagner has played a significant role in Ukraine and there’s been a feud of some sort between Prigozhin/Wagner and the Russian Ministry of Defense for months. But just today things appear to have taken a dramatic new turn with Prigozhin releasing videos saying he’s “declaring war” on the Ministry of Defense and making a number of public claims that throw the entire rationale for the invasion of Ukraine itself into doubt. In other words, they are the kind of moves you don’t come back from.
From the start of this feud it’s been pretty unclear what’s performative and what’s real. But whatever is happening now looks real. The Russian government is now issuing statements essentially calling Prigozhin’s threats an attempted coup. Putin’s longtime press secretary Peskov says that a criminal case is being lodged against Prigozhin for “incitement to armed rebellion.” Just watching incoming reports it seems like the formal government decided they had enough and are basically on all fronts to decapitate Wagner (and who knows — maybe Prigozhin himself?)
Again, not my area of expertise. I’ve given the information above just to provide some very general context. For the moment I’d suggest watching developments in this curated list of military analysts reporting on the Ukraine war. Things appear to be moving quickly.
(ed. note: Since this post is based on rough translations and breaking news reports, consider the quotes and reports subject to possible future revision.)