An internal Kremlin coup is reportedly underway as the leader of the controversial Wagner mercenary group is increasingly putting Russian President Putin under increasing pressure to sack his Defense Minister Sergie Shoigu.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, who heads the Wagner Group, also dubbed Putin’s private army, made up mostly of mercenaries, is said to be increasingly involved in day-to-day decision-making regarding the war in Ukraine.
Prigozhin only responds to Putin and he claimed Wagner’s forces captured Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, not Russian forces.
Prigozhin, who answers only to the Russian president, is said to be so frustrated with the lack of progress in Ukraine that he is pressuring Putin to fire the country’s defense minister, Shoigu, according to various reports in Russia and in Europe, including CNN.
Fred Pleitgen, the news network’s international correspondent, reported that the Wagner mercenary group is “now the spearhead of Putin’s invasion force”.
“Prigozhin is trying to oust Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu because the Russian campaign is going badly.”
“There are a lot of people saying that Prigozhin is trying to orchestrate a power grab in Moscow right now.”
CNN correspondent Fred Pleitgen
The reports come after Prigozhin claimed it was Wagner’s forces that captured the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, not Russian forces.
“I would like to point out that there was not a single person from any other group, except employees of the Wagner Group, involved in this campaign,” the group’s leader reportedly wrote.
Responding to the reports, former CIA Director John Brennan told various media outlets that “there is maneuvering among Russia’s top leadership to try to take command and control because they have so poorly done”.
“Putin’s options are shrinking and Russian forces are doing so badly.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan
“Putin sees this conflict as existential to his political survival. He won’t survive it if he can’t claim victory in Ukraine,” Brennan said.
‘Gas wonderkid’ dies suddenly
The reports come just days after it emerged that another close ally of Vladimir Putin died suddenly.
Nikolay Petrunin, 46-year-old Russian multimillionaire and close confidant of the Russian president, would be no more.
The official reason from the authorities was that the Gazprom leader died from complications caused by Covid. He was reportedly in a coma for several weeks.
Petrunin was one of the most important executives of the energy giant Gazprom. He was also Vice-Chairman of the prestigious Energy Commission of the Russian Parliament. He was considered an extremely close ally of Putin.
Petrunin has been dubbed Russia’s “gas wonder”. He entered politics after a career building gas pipelines in Siberia.
His sudden death raises questions, however, with many Russians discussing his death on Telegram and social media. the war in Ukraine.
The critic falls out the window
Petrunin’s death comes just five weeks after the head of Russia’s largest private oil producer, who criticized the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, died after falling from a hospital window.
Ravil Maganov, chairman of the board of directors of LUKOIL, died in mysterious circumstances, according to the Russian-language site Interfax.
The company is the country’s largest private oil producer and was openly critical of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in March.
In a statement issued on its west to shareholders, LUKOIL’s board expressed “deepest concerns regarding the tragic events in Ukraine” in March.
Shortly before his death, the US Department of Justice obtained a warrant to seize a $45 million aircraft owned by PJSC LUKOIL.
In November 2019, Maganov was pictured with Putin in the Kremlin receiving the Order of Alexander Nevsky, a state honour.