It’s no secret in Moscow that Russia’s top brass are divided over how their country’s Special Military Operation should proceed in Ukraine.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian military contractor, PMC Wagner, has been explicit in his criticism of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, blaming them on several occasions for delayed ammunitions shipments which, he believes, caused the deaths of too many Wagner troops.
The celebration of last week’s victory in Bakhmut, concluding what may have been the largest battle in Europe since the Second World War, was tempered with significant losses on the Russian side. The fighting was intense and it stretched on for 224 days with Ukrainian troops digging in hard, turning high-rise buildings into firing points and blowing up buildings as they retreated. The city now lies in ruins.
Prigozhin has stated several times that Wagner could have taken Bakhmut with only 1/5 of the casualties suffered, if Moscow had only delivered the requested amount of ammunition, and delivered it on time. He has even published delivery receipts that reveal that Wagner has been receiving as little as 1/10th of the ammo required.
Speaking Friday, Prigozhin again accused Russia’s top brass of an “unwillingness” to provide ammunition, which led to unnecessary losses. Then, on Monday, Prigozhin surprised Shoigu by sending the Defense Minister a present for his 68th birthday. The gift was a book, “Eight Years with Wagner,” by Kirill Romanovsky, and it was accompanied by a short, but flattering, letter of congratulations.
“We hope that you will continue to delight others with your happy smile,” Prigozhin wrote at one point.
The ongoing feud between Prigozhin and prominent members of the Russian Department of Defense has dominated headlines in Russia, leading to disagreements between those who support Wagner, and those who are offended by Prigozhin’s conduct. The entrepreneur does not hold back and is well-known for peppering his rants with vulgarities that some find excessive.
None of this is a secret. It’s in Russian media and in Western mainstream media alike. But there may be more to the story that isn’t part of the mainstream discussion yet.
According to one of my sources in Moscow, who asked to remain anonymous, the head of Wagner is also under attack by other members of Russia’s wealthiest class, who have been feeding the Western press “negative materials” about Wagner and its founder. Publications such as The Washington Post, my source says, are passing off these “materials” as “investigative journalism” and even portraying them as “intelligence leaks.”
The source believes that the aim of these “leaks” is to widen the rift between Prigozhin and the Kremlin. Though Western media and their allies in Ukraine publish negative stories about Russia on a nearly 24–7 basis, my source believes that some of these negative stories are being fed to the press by Russian oligarchs who are losing money as a result of the ongoing conflict.
The source did not provide any names, but described them as “big businessmen closely connected with the West, Western financial institutions and intelligence services.” These businessmen, often referred to as oligarchs, made their money in the 1990’s when they picked over the bones of the USSR, buying factories and other state properties for practically nothing. While pensioners starved or froze to death in the streets and regular people lived in extreme poverty, the oligarchs grew obscenely wealthy.
Now, these oligarchs run their businesses in Russia while their villas, yachts and other properties are located in Western countries, and their children are sent to prestigious universities in London, Paris or New York. But they are feeling the pinch of Western sanctions, my source believes, and they want Russia to end the SMO so that they can go back to enjoying their affluent lifestyles without taking any more hits in profits.
The oligarchs are willing to risk the success of the SMO, the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Donbas region, and even the return of Crimea to Ukraine, all for the sake of their own prosperity, the source said, even suggesting that these oligarchs may be bribing Western journalists with money.
Ironically, Forbes’ Russian-language site ran an article ranking Russian billionaires and compared their total wealth in 2022 and 2023, revealing that not only are there 22 more Russian billionaires this year than there were last year, but collectively they have increased their wealth by more than $150 billion.
So there’s no question that some of Russia’s most wealthy citizens are profiting from the war. The value of the ruble increased after the SMO began. But others, especially those dependent on economic ties with the West, are losing money and may sabotage Russia’s success, my source fears, to secure their own financial futures.
I also talked with Russell Bentley, an American expat, who has fought alongside Wagner troops in the Donbass. “It is as serious as WW2,” Bentley said via direct messaging. “Either the US and NATO will be dissolved or Russia will.”
Bentley is concerned that popular analysts such as Scott Ritter and Colonel Douglas MacGregor, who have steadfastly insisted that Ukraine is running out of weapons and troops, may be missing something. Something big.
“The situation on the ground is still very dangerous for Russia,” he continued. “The nazis are still literally on the city limits of all the major cities of the DPR. The Big Attack is planned, and prepared for, and it IS coming.”
If Ukrainian forces manage to advance just 10 miles from their present positions, Bentley fears, “they will be in the centers of Donetsk, Makeevka and Gorlovka, and unleash terrorism and genocide against the unarmed and under-defended population that will make Rwanda look like a picnic.”
In an article published in the Greanville Post in late March, Bentley wrote that Ukraine is holding onto reserve troops.
“The fact is, confirmed by sources from both sides, that in spite of heavy losses, Ukraine currently has a reserve force of 200,000 troops, in theater, and ready for action. The number of Russian troops in the Donbas theater of operations is not known, but what is known is that Russian forces have also suffered heavy casualties over the last year, and it does not appear that the reserve troops raised are actually in the conflict zone, ready for action. The original attack was planned with 150,000 UAF/NATO troops involved. Now, they have 200,000…”
To complicate matters, Prigozhin also announced that Wagner will be withdrawing from Bakhmut tomorrow, May 25th. Russian media is abuzz with speculation about who will replace the “Orchestra” when it leaves, to stave off continuing attacks from Ukrainian forces which have not ended with the city’s capture.
A soldier with the call sign “Mazur,” who has been fighting since the beginning of the SMO in February, 2022, told reporters that regular Russian troops will rotate in to replace Wagner’s fighters, who are heavily fatigued.
“The most important things that can play into the hands of both us and the enemy are the rotation time,” Mazur is quoted as saying, “that is, how much time will be given to replace the personnel in Artemovsk [Russian name for Bakhmut]. The number of units that will replace the Wagners is also important.”
There is no word so far on how many troops will be sent to replace Wagner, or where they will come from. We may have to wait until tomorrow to find out.
Meanwhile, Bentley believes that Moscow is the biggest threat to Russia’s future, that the SMO has been plagued with poor planning from the very start. His article goes on to say:
“Wars are won by the side that makes the least mistakes. And they are lost by military commanders who make egregious mistakes, and are allowed to continue to do so. The litany of mistakes by the top Russian military decision-makers, the complete disregard for the most basic principles of military science, in both their number and severity, cannot be excused, and can only be explained by a level of astronomic stupidity or something worse, on the part of those responsible. And these mistakes, if indeed that’s what they are, predate the SMO by years.”
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