Vladimir Putin publicly snubbed Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, following Russia’s apparent victory in Soledar. In a message congratulating Russia’s military for the win, President Putin did not mention Wagner forces once. This sparked fury from officials inside the paramilitary group, with Mr Prigozhin later accusing the military of “constantly trying to steal Wagner’s victory”.
In a video on Saturday, the Wagner mercenary chief said that his forces were “the most experienced army that exists in the world today” in a subtle threat to the defence ministry.
Retired Air Vice-Marshal Sean Bell told Sky News that the power struggle inside the Kremlin was growing.
He said: “The Wagner Group, which led the battle here, claimed victory a few days ago. But the Kremlin and Ukraine rejected this. Yesterday, the Kremlin said Soledar had fallen.
“Prigozhin is the real issue. At the end of the battle, President Putin acknowledged the great support of the Russian army, the assault troops, and so on – and no mention of Wagner.
“And it was only six hours later that they acknowledged the Wagner Group’s efforts.”
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In the rare follow-up statement, the Russian defence ministry cited the “courageous and selfless actions” of Wagner assault squads.
The Kremlin infighting has delighted Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky, who mocked the Russians on Friday night for “gnawing among themselves over who should be credited with some tactical advance”.
In another apparent snub to Mr Prigozhin, President Putin appointed General Valery Gerasimov as the overall commander in Ukraine.
Mr Prigozhin has previously accused the newly-promoted General Gerasimov of incompetence, and he has scathingly criticised the military establishment for blunders in Ukraine.
Mr Menon added: “Putin has not been as politically vulnerable for some time, if ever.
“I’m not saying he’s about to be ousted, but this is a very difficult situation for him and this is a war that he must win.”
Meanwhile, the UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, has said “now is the time to accelerate and go further and faster” in giving Ukraine the support it needs.
Writing in The Sun on Sunday, Mr Cleverly called out the “shambolic state of Russian military logistics”.
He pointed out that not a single one of the Russian operational commanders in place when the invasion began on 24 February last year is still in his job today.