Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the paramilitary Wagner Group, has turned the war in Ukraine into his own show since early May. From the trenches of Bakhmut, on Telegram and other social-media channels, he’s decried the Russian military command as worthless and corrupt, particularly claiming that it has deprived his forces of ammunition. At a time of extraordinary top-down control in Russian media and politics, Prigozhin’s outbursts have left a lot of observers perplexed about just what kind of political or military tug-of-war is playing out in front of the international public.
In a video posted on May 4, Prigozhin showed himself surrounded by the bodies of dead Wagner fighters, hurling expletives at Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff. In another video days later, he threatened to withdraw his troops from Bakhmut if not provided with more ammunition. In still another, Prigozhin referred to a “grandfather” who prefers to store ammunition instead of supplying it to the front: “And what if this grandfather is a complete asshole?” he demanded.