A member of the Kremlin-affiliated Valdai Discussion Club accused Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin of pursuing political objectives in Russia that are endangering Wagner forces in Bakhmut. Russian political scientist Aleksey Mukhin—who contributes to the Valdai Discussion Club and Russian state media—commented on Prigozhin’s March 11 sarcastic announcement that he will be running in Ukrainian presidential election in 2024. Mukhin stated on his Telegram channel that the Russian public began to interpret Prigozhin’s statement as an announcement that he will run for the Russian presidential elections, which are also scheduled for 2024. Mukhin rhetorically asked if Prigozhin notified Russian President Vladimir Putin about his “presidential ambitions.” Mukhin argued that Prigozhin’s presentation of himself as the “commander” of the Wagner private military company (PMC) “directly affects the planning and management of the assault squads’ combat operations.” Mukhin also sarcastically stated that Prigozhin is a “prospective politician” who searches for scapegoats to blame for Wagner’s high losses among personnel. Mukhin observed that everyone knows that the Russian government pays for Prigozhin’s forces and their ammunition and stated that Prigozhin’s failure to acknowledge the support from conventional Russian forces alienated him from other Russian battlefield commanders. Mukhin concluded that Prigozhin “has placed the Wagner fighters in danger of encirclement during the expected Ukrainian counterattack” as a result of his actions. Mukhin stated that Prigozhin now is demanding that Russian conventional forces “cover his flanks,” and that Russian forces may need to put aside their distaste for Prigozhin to prevent further Wagner losses in Bakhmut.
Mukhin’s attack on Prigozhin is in line with ISW’s March 12 assessment that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) may be deliberately expending Wagner forces in Bakhmut in part to derail Prigozhin’s political aspirations. Mukhin’s accusations also support ISW’s assessment that the Kremlin and Russian MoD may be attempting to blame Prigozhin for the slowed pace of advance in Bakhmut and for high casualties among Wagner mercenaries. Mukhin’s statement showcases how the Kremlin may be perceiving Prigozhin’s controversial statements and his threat to Putin’s regime. ISW previously observed harsh criticism towards Prigozhin from milbloggers such as disgraced Russian officer Igor Girkin, but Mukhin’s statement is notable because of his existing affiliation with the Kremlin institution that is the Valdai Club.
Prigozhin likely indirectly responded to Mukhin’s accusations on March 12 but has not scaled back his hostile rhetoric towards the Russian MoD. Prigozhin responded within an hour of Mukhin’s statement, stating that the situation in Bakhmut remains “really hard” and that his “550 attempts” to procure ammunition for Wagner were ignored. Prigozhin, however, emphasized that servicemen subordinated to the Russian MoD have been bringing 12 to 15 cars full of ammunition to Wagner in Bakhmut from Zaporizhia, Donetsk City, and Avdiivka frontlines. Prigozhin noted that “there is no conflict between Wagner PMC fighters and Russian MoD fighters,” and claimed that he is confident that Wagner will continue to receive such donations due to friendly relations with these units. Prigozhin doubled down on his statements on March 13 and reportedly met with an unnamed commander of an unspecified Russian brigade. Prigozhin claimed that he had developed a relationship with unspecified conventional forces after they had suffered a year of “betrayal” and stated that these forces are not covering one of Wagner’s flanks—a statement that mimics Mukhin’s claim that Russian conventional forces are not interested in assisting Wagner.
A Wagner-affiliated milblogger also directly responded to Mukhin’s commentary stating that while Prigozhin was simply “trolling” about his presidential ambitions in Ukraine, he does not need to notify Putin of his political ambitions according to Russian law. The milblogger further echoed Prigozhin’s claims that Wagner is on good terms with conventional forces, which further confirms that Prigozhin’s March 12 and March 13 statements were in response to Mukhin’s accusations.
- A member of the Kremlin-affiliated Valdai Discussion Club accused Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin of pursuing political objectives in Russia that are endangering Wagner forces in Bakhmut. This attack on Prigozhin is in line with ISW’s March 12 assessment that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) may be deliberately expending Wagner forces in Bakhmut to derail Prigozhin’s political aspirations.
- Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov continues efforts to maintain Chechnya’s relevance in the Russian political and military sphere.
- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Iranian officials in Tehran on March 13 to expand bilateral cooperation and bolster sanctions mitigations.
- Russian milbloggers continue to speculate about a prospective Ukrainian counteroffensive in southern Ukraine, suggesting increasing concern in the Russian information space about Ukrainian combat capabilities as Russian forces pin themselves on offensive operations in Bakhmut.
- A Russian State Duma bill aiming to raise the conscription age suggests that the Kremlin is not planning to conduct full mobilization in the future.
- The Russian military is reportedly employing the newly created “assault detachments” in different manners across different tactical situations.
- Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed that Russia has illegally deported 2,161 Ukrainian orphans to Russia.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks throughout the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line and made marginal gains northeast of Kupyansk and east of Siversk.
- Russian forces continued making advances in and around Bakhmut but have not succeeded in completing a turning movement, envelopment, or encirclement of the city as of March 13.
- Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks across the Donetsk Oblast front line.
- Ukrainian forces continue to conduct raids against areas in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast.
- Subordination of mobilized Russian military personnel to Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic (DNR/LNR) formations is generating increasing discontent.
- Russian occupation officials continue to introduce new provisions to discourage and restrict the use of the Ukrainian language in educational facilities.