Battle for Bakhmut highlights divide between Wagner mercenary chief and the Kremlin


The founder and leader of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been touted as someone who could pose a political challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Once a key battlefield ally, in recent days Prigozhin has publicly lamented losing his direct line to the Kremlin. Wagner fighters are not being supplied with enough ammunition to win the battle for Bakhmut despite his numerous appeals, in what may be a sign of a struggle for influence in Moscow – and, notably, at Russia’s ministry of defence.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin had hoped seizing the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut would bring him a moment of glory but the Ukrainian city has been holding out against his Wagner Group mercenaries. Despite steady advances the city remains under Ukrainian control, according to a March 13 report from the Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank.

But that did not stop Prigozhin from declaring last week that he intends to run for president of Ukraine in 2024. And yet Prigozhin also seems all too aware that his political destiny is increasingly linked to the outcome of the battle.

"[Prigozhin] has been talking about the ‘liberation’ of Bakhmut since last July, and it's still under Ukrainian control. I imagine some in Moscow must not be pleased with that," says Stephen Hall, a specialist in Russian politics at the University of Bath.

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