Russian President Vladimir Putin is struggling to control the ever-growing conflicts among his lieutenants and top allies, an expert has said.
Vlad Mykhnenko, an expert in the post-communist transformation of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union at the University of Oxford, told Newsweek that mounting criticism leveled by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the mercenary outfit the Wagner Group, against the defense ministry, suggests that Russia is “rapidly becoming a failed state.”
The pair have continued to criticize how Putin’s war against Ukraine is being handled, appearing to be siding with each other in rare displays of dissent, suggesting that rifts may be emerging inside the Kremlin.
Notably, on Wednesday, Kadyrov sided with Prigozhin in sharply criticizing General Alexander Lapin, commander of Russia’s largest military district, saying on Telegram that “tactical and personnel changes are needed” immediately.
Just days later, on Saturday, a pro-Kremlin media outlet reported that Lapin, 58, had been fired as the commander of the Russian Armed Forces’ Central Military District. Russia’s Defense Ministry hasn’t officially confirmed the news; his details are still listed on the government website.
It’s just one of many examples of dissent from top Putin allies as Russia continues to face military setbacks in Ukraine.
Mykhnenko said the fact that the pair have publicly “orchestrated a real hate campaign” against Russia’s defense ministry suggests that individual warlords demand bigger rewards for their loyalty to the Kremlin and for the perceived military effectiveness and the ability “to get things done” on the frontline.
“Kadyrov and Prigozhin claim to be much better at soldering, fighting, and war strategy than the Russian Ministry of Defense and its General Staff,” said Mykhnenko.
“No doubt, privately, they complain to Putin that he should put the ‘real patriots’ in charge of or at least closer towards the war finance arrangements and money flows, instead of ‘useless’ and ‘corrupt’ generals,” he said.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S. think tank, noted in a report on Monday that Prigozhin has continued his efforts to increase his status among Russian elites and his presence in St. Petersburg by attacking local officials and announcing the creation of a PMC Wagner Center in the city.
The think tank said that Prigozhin is working to establish himself as a political force, using his popular status and his affiliation with the Wagner Group to criticize his opponents within elite circles and to institutionalize his own authority.
Mykhnenko said that Putin will “find it increasingly difficult mediating ever-growing conflicts amongst his lieutenants.”
“The Kremlin and its ruler allow individual warlords to be above the formalities of Russian laws, having lost the legitimate state monopoly over the means of violence,” he said.
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