Escalation of the conflict
On May 5, Prigozhin put out a video
in which he demanded that the Ministry of Defense provide him with ammunition to continue fighting in Bakhmut, threatening otherwise to withdraw Wagner mercenaries from their positions within a week. A day later, he said
that the Ministry of Defense had promised him ammunition, and Wagner remained in Bakhmut.
The culmination came on May 9, when Prigozhin, right after the military parade on Red Square, published a half-hour video
in which he said that he had been deceived, and contrary to the orders of the supreme commander-in-chief, his units had received only 10% of the required shells. Again, he began to blackmail the leadership of the Ministry of Defense. “Victory Day is the victory of our grandfathers, and we do not deserve that victory for a second… How are we celebrating it is a big question. Just remember them and that’s it, and don’t f@ck around on Red Square,” adding: “we will not leave Artemovsk, we will persist a few more days, we will fight...”
In parallel with the conflict between Prigozhin, Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, which was headed into a tailspin, it suddenly emerged that Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who had been sacked
on April 27 as deputy minister of defense for logistics, was named deputy commander of Wagner
. It is believed that it was Mizintsev who directed the three-month siege of Mariupol, receiving the nickname “the butcher of Mariupol” in the Western press.
On May 10, Putin’s press secretary Dmitri Peskov unexpectedly gave a lengthy interview to the little-known TV channel ATV (from Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina). Responding to a question about the situation in Artemivsk/Bakhmut and the Wagner statement, he said
: “I will not name names, but I will say: no matter what is said, no matter what statements are made, all the same, we are talking about, let’s call it, the Russian armed forces. These are all Russian forces, unified forces. And they pursue one single goal.” Peskov also said that he was proud of his son, who had paid his debt to the motherland, without specifying that the only source
of the dubious information about his son’s time at the front is Prigozhin.The logic of events
There are many oddities in this whole web of events. Let’s start with the two big ones. Why did Prigozhin’s conflict with the leadership of the Ministry of Defense reach its public climax precisely on May 9? Why did Putin, as the supreme commander-in-chief and supreme arbiter – having smoothed over conflicts between important persons throughout all the years of his rule –not stop the public showdown between the field commander and the owner of a private military company, and the high command? Why did his press secretary Peskov, whose son Prigozhin likely helped get out of fighting, go instead to explain things? There is hardly any doubt that Peskov gave an interview to ATV not on his own initiative, but on Putin’s orders.
A possible explanation could be that Putin needed a fresh, symbolic victory for Victory Day, and, as Meduza writes
, citing its sources, Prigozhin made him a “personal promise” to finally take Bakhmut.
Perhaps this would have happened had the Ukrainian command not taken into account the symbolic significance of Bakhmut (in military-strategic terms, its taking by the Russian side would not accomplish any major objectives).
In an interview with the Associated Press
on March 29, President Zelensky said that if Bakhmut fell, Putin would “sell this victory to the West, to his society, to China, to Iran.” He warned that “if he [Putin] will feel some blood – smell that we are weak – he will push, push, push.”