Analysis: As Russia’s military stalls, Putin’s chef serves up his Wagner shock troops to rescue campaign

Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin is fighting his own war in eastern Ukraine, an often crude and increasingly vocal presence in Russia’s Moscow’s faltering military campaign.

He is pitching himself and his Wagner mercenary group as the real patriots, in contrast to what he derides as the corrupt and incompetent military hierarchy. The language is getting harsher, and the stakes higher.

In the last few weeks, Prigozhin has been seen close to the frontlines in the occupied eastern region of Donetsk, delivering oranges to the troops or grimly reviewing body bags, and engaging with his fighters in unvarnished and sometimes brutal language.

He rarely misses an opportunity to take a swipe at the establishment. Somewhere in Donetsk last week, Prigozhin told his fighters: “Once we conquer our internal bureaucracy and corruption, then we will conquer the Ukrainians and NATO … The problem is that the bureaucrats and those engaging in corruption won’t listen to us now because for New Year’s they are all drinking champagne.”

For Prigozhin, the chief bureaucrat that he has in mind is Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The two appear to have fallen out over lucrative military contracts given to and then taken from Prigozhin’s Concord Group, as well as Wagner’s controversial role in Syria.

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