Wagner boss ‘wants Putin gone’ which leaves Russian leader ‘nervous’

Ukraine: Prigozhin says Bakhmut is ‘surrounded’ by Wagner

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Yevgeny Prigozhin and his supporters want Vladimir Putin removed from power so the Wagner Group boss can launch his own leadership bid in Moscow, according to an expert. Prigozhin’s private military group has helped the Russian military in Ukraine, especially in Bakhmut, where Ukrainian troops have had to battle swathes of conscripts. But Prigozhin has also used his platform since publicly revealing himself as Wagner’s leader last year to challenge the defence ministry in Moscow.

Many experts suspect Prigozhin may be trying to build his profile so that he can launch a bid to overthrow Putin in the event that Ukraine does defeat Russia.

Russia expert Olga Lautman told Express.co.uk that this puts Putin in a difficult position.

She said the Russian President is threatened by Prigozgin, but Moscow’s military still needs the help of Wagner forces.

She said: “Over the last year, Prigozhin has become more public and taken on this populist role. He has basically been going after Putin’s inner circle, including the defence ministry.

“I think he is trying to carve out a path for a power grab. Putin is stuck because he needs the Wagner mercenaries, and he needs the defence ministry. If he goes against Prigozhin, he knows that will cause an even bigger split.

“Prigozhin is also an expert at running the propaganda channels. With that, he has managed to create a very loyal following who all have zero issues calling for Putin to step down and shaking the whole system.

“He is doing it for a power grab, and I think eventually he will challenge Putin.”

Prigozhin has released a lot more public communication in recent months, using these statements to take aim at the Russian military.

In February, he accused the Russian military leaders of “treason” after being refused extra ammunition supplies.

He said: “[Moscow’s] chief of general staff and the defence minister give out orders left and right not only to not give ammunition to PMC Wagner, but also to not help it with air transport.

“There is just direct opposition going on, which is nothing less than an attempt to destroy Wagner. This can be equated to high treason.”

Last year, Prigozhin was videoed recruiting Russian prisoners to fight in Ukraine. However, last month, he said Wagner will no longer bring in convicts.

Ms Lautman believes this could be an indication that the Russian security services (FSB) and defence ministry are trying to rein him in.

She added: “The FSB and defence ministry have been doing everything to sabotage Prigozhin because they realise they can’t have someone like him in power because he is too wild and he challenged the system.

“One example of this was banning his recruitment of prisoners.”

Ms Lautman concluded that while Putin will want to quash the threat of Prigozhin, he cannot right now due to the Russian military’s dependence on Wagner.

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However, she added that security services in Moscow may try and eliminate Prigozhin at a later date.

Ms Lautman said: “One aspect is the military dependency because they still need the cannon fodder in Donbas. But I honestly think Putin is nervous because if he challenges Prigozhin publicly, this will become a bigger rift.

“With Russia taking heavy losses and not making significant gains…Putin needs to be careful because challenging Prigozhin will lead to a very bad blowback from Prigozhin’s supporters.

“I think Prigozhin is still useful to Putin, but he crosses so many red lines that are unthinkable. When his usefulness is up, he will be gone. I don’t think he will be gone by just disappearing.

“The Kremlin will want to make sure it is extremely public to send a message that if anyone ever turns against the system again, this is the consequence. It will be one of the signature killings like Litvinenko for instance.”

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