Is Russia’s Wagner Group Boss Yevgeny Prigozhin Vying to Oust Vladimir Putin?

Wagner Corporation founder Yevgeny Prigozhin made a name for himself by having his men kill as many Ukrainians as possible on behalf of President Putin—but now some analysts say he’s actually vying for the presidency.

“The Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin may be using his influence in the Russian mainstream media scene to present himself as a candidate in the Russian presidential election of 2024,” said the Institute of Russian Studies. War Rescue is based in DC speak Tuesday.

Analysts at think tank argued that in a recent video interview with Russian journalists, the mercenary boss appeared to be “imitating the way Russian President Vladimir Putin filmed public meetings he orchestrated. , either to mock Putin quietly or subtly suggest that Prigozhin might be Russian. presidents like Putin.”

Analysts note that he has also taken steps to differentiate himself from the “elite” in the Kremlin and the Defense Ministry, dismissing reports that Russia is at war against the Nazis and NATO. and frequently criticized top military officials.

“Prigozhin’s recent behavior — whatever its purpose — is fueling a narrative in Russian society that Prigozhin has greater political aspirations in Russia,” ISW writes.

The Kremlin-linked businessman — known as the mastermind behind Russia’s massive internet network long before he acknowledged his role in the Wagner case — has denied any political will. .

When asked on Wednesday by a journalist if he was really aiming for political office, he blow a pad: “A law is essential. So anyone who says ‘political ambition’ will be shot on the spot.”

But on the same day, he backed an enemy of the Kremlin in a move seemingly designed to portray him as a noble leader standing up for the common people trampled by the country’s elites. (a common theme in all of his recent public comments).

In a letter to prosecutors in the Tula region, Prigozhin defended Alexei Moskalev, a single father sentenced to two years in prison earlier this week for allegedly “discrediting” the military. Russian team. Moskalev was arrested just a day after his 12-year-old daughter drew an anti-war picture at school.

Calling the sentence against Moskalev “unjust”, Prigozhin called on prosecutors to review the case so that Moskalev’s daughter is not forced to live in an orphanage.

“Wagner warriors defend the interests of the Russian Federation and die honorably for the sake of the Fatherland and the future of our children and grandchildren. After the deaths of many of our comrades, their families, wives and children were left behind. Often these children, with no other relatives, end up in orphanages. We believe this is a great tragedy for Russia and the future of our country,” wrote Prigozhin, conveniently ignoring the many orphans at the hands of his private army.

The move quickly received praise from pro-Kremlin experts.

“Prigozhin was an absolutely brilliant man who, unlike the hidden ‘technocrats’, had read Dostoevsky and understood that defending the ‘humiliated and offended’ is something that always echoes in people’s hearts. Russia. And the ‘technocrat’, who has no compassion, the Russian people will always despise and hate,” wrote propagandist Sergei Mardan.

Prigozhin’s appeal to prosecutors also caught the eye of the Kremlin, which recently pulled him out of a plan to recruit prisoners for Ukraine and appears to be trying to rein in growing influence. his.

While Prigozhin plays the benevolent rescuer, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, protect ruled against Moskalev earlier Wednesday and criticized his “regrettable” parenting skills.

However, beyond the possibility of Prigozhin trying to position himself as the country’s next leader, some see another explanation for his recent moves.

“Prigozhin is weak, he has abandoned people and lost food supplies for the army, and he is forced to advertise his activities on pornographic websites. I think that in the near future he should go to Africa and it is unlikely that he will last long physically—he will be poisoned or shot or will have an accident,” said Olga Romanova, who founder of Russia Behind Bars, said in a statement. interview earlier this week.

She said his actions showed he was “hysterical” because he was losing power.

“Recently, we talked seriously about the fact that he can influence not only Russian politics but also global politics — and now he is being fired. … It was a naturally-determined, disgraceful outcome, and I really hope that some other similarly lowly creature will not come and take his place.”

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