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Russia-Ukraine War: Putin Mobilizes Forces Against Russian Paramilitary Chief

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Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has always seemed to thrive through turmoil. Now it threatens to swallow him.

In the past few months, as mercenary chief Yevgeny V. Prigozhin has intensified his feud with the Russian military, Mr. Putin has not publicly expressed his displeasure with his accusations. The silence fostered a kind of political ambiguity that has long been a trademark of Putin’s rule. Its management style appeared to tolerate conflicts between elites in order to keep potential rivals in check, while emphasizing that ultimate authority always rested with Putin. the president himself.

Now that approach is backfiring. On Saturday, Prigozhin’s forces overran key military installations in the southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don and threatened to march on Moscow, a move that has since been put in place by Putin on Dec. 31, when he was appointed acting president of Russia. The most dramatic challenge to the rule of , 1999.

Mr Putin’s tolerance of Mr Prigozhin’s verbal abuse this year may have served a political purpose, analysts say, but officials stunned by Mr Prigozhin’s verbal attacks on Russia’s top echelons: They concluded that Putin enjoyed the tacit endorsement of the president. It also encouraged Mr. Prigogine even more.

“Because Putin was silent, they were trying to decipher his actions,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia-Eurasian Center, referring to senior Kremlin and security officials. .

The confusion over Putin’s personal views was sparked by a rebellion launched by militia leaders in a five-minute address to the nation on Saturday morning in which the president called Prigozhin a traitor, although he did not name him. I finally put an end to it when I vowed to put an end to it. started. But the damage was already done.

There was no sign of Putin’s grip on power breaking down. Other influential figures at the node of Putin’s informal power structure, including Ramzan Kadyrov, a leading leader in Russia’s southern Chechnya region who heads his own militia, also endorsed the president on Saturday. publicly announced.

Still, these events were a striking result of the informal power structure Mr Putin had built during his 23 years at the helm of Russia. For more than two decades, the system has helped Putin secure unparalleled authority, ensuring that he personally holds the key to wealth and influence in modern Russia.

According to people familiar with Putin, the president has always been happy with his personalized system, which gives him credibility for important missions while preventing the rise of rival factions that could undermine him. It is said that he was able to leave it to the inner circle. And it has ensured that state institutions, from the courts to parliament, the press, to multiple security agencies, are not sources of influence in themselves, but mere tools for internal power struggles mediated by Mr. Putin.

Fighters of the Wagner Private Mercenary Group were deployed on Saturday in the streets of Rostov-on-Don, Russia.credit…Reuters

A Russian businessman, speaking on condition of anonymity, reflected on Mr. Prigozhin’s rise and said Mr. Putin’s approach to governance had always been “divide and conquer.” “You never know who will arrest you,” said another, pointing to rival law enforcement officials in Russia.

Putin’s judo sparring partner from a young age became a construction billionaire and built Putin’s landmark bridge to Crimea.Putin’s KGB buddies now oversee the Russian state military-industrial complex and the petroleum sector. A friend from St. Petersburg in the 1990s entrusted Control of Russia’s most important private media assets and banks said to be tied to Putin’s own financial dealings.

Then there was Prigozhin, who met Putin more than 20 years ago as a St. Petersburg restaurateur. He used these personal ties to lucrative government contracts and presented himself as a cold and versatile problem solver on behalf of the Kremlin.

In 2016, when the Kremlin tried to win the US presidential election in favor of Donald J. Trump, Prigozhin jumped into the fray with the internet’s “troll factories” and waged “information warfare against America.” As Russia seeks to expand its reach in Syria and Africa, Mr. Prigozhin has deployed a growing Wagnerian mercenary force to these regions, allowing the Kremlin to project power while minimizing Russian military activity on the ground. made it

In Ukraine, Prigozhin said, Wagner’s forces were called up only after Putin’s initial plan to invade failed. During the first year of the war, Prigozhin went above and beyond the law, visiting Russian prisons and recruiting thousands of prisoners to strengthen his forces.

By early this year, the Kremlin appeared to be taking some steps to limit Prigozhin’s rise. Television commentators were instructed not to mention him on air, and he lost his ability to recruit convicts.

But Mr Putin seems to be confused about his support for Mr Prigozhin. In May, he praised the role of Wagner mercenaries in the capture of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in his statement. Posted It’s on the Kremlin website.A few weeks later he backed up The Ministry of Defense requires mercenaries to sign service contracts with the Russian army by July 1, a demand that infuriates Mr. Prigozhin.

Prigozhin has emerged as the product of the Russian president himself as Mr Putin scrambles to quell a rebellion that he warned on Saturday could lead to “anarchy and fratricide”.

Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian military and security services, said Prigozhin “had no real independent power base outside of the favor of the president.” “Any outcome would undermine Putin’s credibility and legitimacy.”

Neil Mcfarker Contributed to the report.

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