After unsuccessful attempts to capture Bakhmut Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of the private military company “Wagner”, is losing power and credibility in the eyes of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now the strongman in Kremuk wants to return the focus to the regular Russian army.
This is stated in the daily analysis for Ukraine by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
According to analysts, “Prigozhin’s star has begun to set.” Putin probably turned to him and to army general Sergei Surovkin to get the former to conquer as much territory as possible, and the latter to demoralize the Ukrainians with massive missile attacks.
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“Both attempts failed because Prigozhin’s attempts to capture Bakhmut endedand Surovikin’s air campaign did little more than inflict suffering on the Ukrainian civilian population, using up most of Russia’s stockpile of precision-guided missiles,” ISW wrote.
During this period, Prigozhin seems to have decided that he has enough credibility to challenge Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for military supremacy. Analysts note that those hopes now seem futile. Putin is now refocusing on the regular army.
In the past months, Prigozhin failed to convince Putin and to legalize the activities of PMC “Wagner”.
Russian legislation prohibits the activity of such military formations, but this does not prevent it from developing intensified parallel activity.
Putin’s appeal to Prigozhin has both positive and negative implications for Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. Now Putin is marginalizing and distanced himself from a hard-to-control mercenary groupcomposed mostly of undisciplined convicts, commanded in the most brutal manner.
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Prigogine is likely to continue to criticize the Russian Defense Ministry and the Kremlin, and may even try to turn the pro-war nationalist faction against Putin. But Prigozhin was already nurturing the most extreme pro-war faction, which was already attacking the Russian Defense Ministry with a hammer and tongs and even began to persecute Putin himself.
Prigogine’s voice is likely to carry less weight if Putin continues to marginalize him, especially if Putin manages to convince the pro-war factionthat he remains true to his original idea of victory and intends to achieve it by more conventional means.
ISW notes that these changes have both positive and negative consequences, and not only for Ukraine. Among the pros is that people like Prigogine should not be in power.
“The return of visibility and influence of more professional military officers like Gerasimov is likely to reduce the likelihood Putin to be subjected to the frantic demands of a far-right pro-war faction, which is likely to further reduce the already low likelihood of an irrational escalation,” the analysts wrote.
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Among the negatives: the focus on the regular army suggests that Putin will continue to develop it to make it more powerful. Analysts see this as a threat not only in the context of the war in Ukraine, but also for the future security of NATO.
- Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin made implausible threats of nuclear escalation as part of an ongoing information operation aimed at deterring further Western military aid in Ukraine. ISW continues to believe that Russia is unlikely to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine and highly unlikely to use them against the West.
- On January 22, Russian military bloggers continued to discuss the possibility of a future major Russian or Ukrainian offensive and speculated on which areas were priority targets.
- On January 22, Russian forces continued with limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Svatovo-Kremina line. Russian sources claim that Ukrainian forces fired HIMARS missiles at an industrial site in Kadyivka, Luhansk region.
- Russian troops continued their offensive near Bakhmut and Donetsk-Avdiyevka.
- On January 22, Russian sources reported that Russian troops were continuing their two-pronged advance in Zaporozhye Oblast, with the main effort centered on Khlyapil and Orekhov. The head of the Ukrainian United Press Center of the Tavrian Defense Forces Yevgeny Erin stated on January 22 that Russian troops are not conducting large-scale operations in the Zaporozhian direction.
- On January 22, the Russian occupation authorities continued to seize civilian infrastructure in the occupied territories at the expense of the health and safety of the civilian population.