Putin ‘confronted’ by head of Wagner group says official
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Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the brutal private army, the Wagner Group, has challenged Vladimir Putin face-to-face over the failings in the war in Ukraine. The rare act of defiance, revealed by US intelligence reports, shows the growing influence of Mr Prigozhin within Kremlin circles. The mercenary chief and close Kremlin confidant is believed to have confronted President Putin himself about the mismanagement of the war, according to American intelligence officials.
According to US intelligence sources, the tense confrontation was seen as significant enough to include in the daily briefing provided to US President Joe Biden.
During the meeting, the Wagner Group chief took particular aim at Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, as he tries to oust him.
He has regularly criticised the Russian military effort under Mr Shoigu in the past month while calling for more funding to be directed to his mercenary group.
Earlier this week, the Institute of the Study of War (ISW) suggested that Mr Prigozhin’s rise and the success of Wagner in Ukraine could “pose a threat to Putin’s rule.”
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The ISW report said: “Prigozhin continues to accrue power and is setting up a military structure parallel to the Russian Armed Forces, which may come to pose a threat to Putin’s rule.”
They added that Wagner’s victories on the battlefield were “undermining the authority” of Russian President Putin.
Mr Prigozhin’s mercenary army is the only Russian force in Ukraine which is seizing land, following a series of setbacks for the national army.
In recent days, Wagner mercenaries have led the efforts to capture Bakhmut, a strategic town in the Donetsk region.
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Russian soldiers have deployed artillery to pummel the town, which is key for Ukraine’s supply lines.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said the relentless strikes on Bakhmut showed Moscow’s “craziness”.
In a nightly address, Mr Zelensky said: “Day after day, for months, they have been driving people there to their deaths, concentrating the maximum power of artillery strikes there.”
Samuel Ramani, a defence analyst, said President Putin desperately “needs the optics of some kind of an offensive victory to assuage critics at home and to show the Russian public that this war is still going to plan”.
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Anton Barbashin, from Riddle Russia, told CNN that Mr Prigozhin “was presenting himself as the man who can solve problems”.
President Putin appeared with Mr Shoigu yesterday, as the pair discussed Russia’s mobilisation efforts.
Russia’s defence minister said 82,000 conscripts had already been sent to Ukraine.
Mr Shoigu added that Russia’s mobilisation campaign had ended, while President Putin thanked his defence minister.
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