On Tuesday morning, several buildings in Moscow were hit by a drone attack. In the aftermath of the attack, Yevgeny Prigozhin went out hard.
“You disgusting creeps, what are you doing? You are vermin!”
Unlike other Russian leaders, however, it was not the Ukrainians that the Wagner leader chose to skin. Prigozhin’s anger was directed at his own countrymen.
“Come out of the offices where you are placed to defend this country. You haven’t done a damn thing to advance. Why the hell do you allow these drones to fly into Moscow?”, he writes in a post on Telegram.
Such statements can have major consequences, believes Russia researcher Iver B. Neumann.
– I think Prigozhin lives very dangerously now. In the past, it suited Putin to have such a rabid nationalist around him, but Prigozhin is now going so far that the question is whether it is beneficial for him to have such a “prankster” in circulation.
– Can be taken for days
It is far from the first time the man known as “Putin’s chef” has criticized Russian military leadership. But after his mercenary army achieved a Pyrrhic victory in the ruins of Bakhmut in May, the Wagner boss’s tirades have become more frequent.
In the past, only the Ministry of Defense has been the target of Prigozhin’s abuse. But lately he has also dared to criticize the boss himself, according to the renowned tankesmia ISW.
The nationalist hawk Igor Girkin claims that the Wagner leader wants to overthrow Putin’s regime, which Prigozhin himself has denied. Neumann says that there is little doubt that several people are hungry for Putin’s position.
– The battle to become Russia’s new leader is already underway. Putin is 70 years old and the war is going badly. And we know from past experience that when a war goes badly, knives are sharpened behind the leader’s back.
But Machiavellian plots are not Prigozhin’s thing, says the Russia expert.
– This battle is already taking place in the back room, but Prigozhin chooses a different strategy by laying down a line for direct action. And it’s a damn dangerous game. Either he wins it all, or he loses it all.
Such statements could end up costing him dearly, according to Neumann.
– Prigozhin is now going so far that it can be seen as a challenge for Putin. He wants to become Russia’s new leader, but it could end up with him being removed from office. I think he will be taken out in a very different way, but we will see.
Don’t want to be humiliated
Most others in Prigozhin’s position would have already faced major consequences if they had spoken out like the Wagner boss, says Jakub Godzimirski from NUPI.
– People have been sentenced to ten or twenty years in prison for much milder statements about the war, while Prigozhin has clearly been given free rein to speak out in this way.
One of the reasons why he has so much leeway may be that the Wagner manager has achieved results, despite huge losses.
– In Russia, Prigozhin is spoken of with a mixture of horror and excitement. He operates in a very brutal manner, but also achieves results, unlike conventional Russian forces.
But there are limits to what the Russian leader will accept, he says.
– We don’t know where Putin’s pain threshold lies. The criticism can be interpreted in two ways: Either Putin is so weak that he cannot do anything about it, or he feels so strong that he thinks he can withstand this kind of statement.
Vladimir Putin is not a man who likes to be humiliated, according to Godzimirski.
– We know that Putin is a vindictive man, and has tried to get rid of his critics several times, using all kinds of means. We cannot rule out that at some point he will perceive Prigozhin more as a burden than as a supporter.
Director of the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Iver B. Neumann, says that Prigozhin’s wording is well known to those who have followed the history lessons.
– One of the things we learned from fascism in the interwar period was that calling people “pests” dehumanises them, and makes them ready for slaughter. But Prigozhin, who himself has made it his livelihood to slaughter people, is probably not too keen on this.
He believes that Prigozhin is also trying to appear as a real brute, like the Russian leader.
– As far as I can see, this is pure posing to mark himself as the savior of the fatherland. He takes Putin’s “action man figure”, blows it up, and makes it even more powerful and direct.
In the post, Prigozhin came out harshly against the residents of Rublyovka, a district of Moscow known for being home to the city’s upper class. Neumann believes there is a reason why the Wagner manager chooses to hang out the elite.
– Attacking the elite is also a classic fascist trait and reminds of the so-called “dagger thrust legend” from Germany. The claimed by the country would have done well during the First World War, if it had not been for these upper-class boys who were more concerned with frolicking with their classmates in Western countries than fighting them.
Thus, the hawks in Russia can use the elite as a scapegoat, according to Neumann.
– And this is not just Prigozhin. The entire extreme nationalist side in Russia perpetuates and builds up this myth that if the war goes badly for Russia, it is because such “puppy boys” from the elite are unable to do the job.
Such rhetoric can have major consequences for the war, he says.
– This is extremely dangerous, because it could mean that not only will Russia not learn anything from the military defeat they have now suffered, but it can be used to seek revenge and to build up militarily, just as Germany did in the interwar period . This is simply terrifying.
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