January 15, 2023 Russia-Ukraine News

Russian billionaire and businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin attends a meeting with foreign investors at Konstantin Palace on June 16, 2016 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin is waging his own war in eastern Ukraine, an often crude and increasingly vocal presence in Moscow’s failing military campaign.

He presents himself and his group of Wagner mercenaries as the true patriots, contrary to what he mocks at the corrupt and incompetent military hierarchy. The language gets tougher and the stakes higher.

In recent weeks, Prigozhin has been seen near the frontlines in the occupied eastern region of Donetsk, delivering oranges to troops or grimly examining body bags, and engaging with his fighters in unvarnished and sometimes foul language. .

On Saturday, he posted a video claiming he had just visited his troops in the brutally contested town of Soledar, praising his forces for what he claimed were the best fighting prowess in the world.

He rarely misses an opportunity to take a look at the establishment. Somewhere in Donetsk earlier this month, Prigozhin told his fighters: “Once we defeat our internal bureaucracy and corruption, then we will defeat the Ukrainians and NATO.”

For Prigozhin, the main bureaucrat he thinks of is Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The two appear to have fallen out over lucrative military contracts awarded and later withdrawn from Prigozhin’s Concord Group, as well as Wagner’s controversial role in Syria.

A clash over credit at Soledar: Prigozhin said Friday that it is “exclusively” his troops who have made alleged gains around Soledar in recent days.

In a filmed exchange with his fighters, Prigozhin defiantly asked, “Apart from Wagner PMC, who else is here?”

“Nobody else!” they answered.

Ukrainian forces continue to deny the fall of Soledar and even Prigozhin has acknowledged that fighting continues there.

Either way, the mercenary leader’s ambitions have not gone unnoticed in Washington, DC.

US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Laura Cooper said during a Friday briefing: “In the recent past, we have seen Wagner advance at a faster rate than any other unit in the Russian military.”

Read more analysis on Prigozhin’s role in the war here.


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