The conflict between Russia’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the infamous Wagner private military company (PMC) has reached its “climax” amid the fierce battles in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, a Washington-based think tank suggested.
In an update posted Sunday, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Russia’s Defense Ministry — particularly Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimo — are using the bloody battle in Bakhmut to significantly reduce the Wagner group’s numbers.
The assessment also suggested that Russia’s Defense Ministry is hoping to weaken Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin’s ambition to have greater influence in the Kremlin by restricting his ability to recruit mercenaries and secure ammunition for the war.
“The conflict between the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin likely reached its climax against the backdrop of the Battle of Bakhmut,” the assessment read. “The Russian MoD – specifically Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of the Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov – is likely seizing the opportunity to deliberately expend both elite and convict Wagner forces in Bakhmut in an effort to weaken Prigozhin and derail his ambitions for greater influence in the Kremlin.”
The ISW said the conflict between the Russian MoD and Wagner group is “likely slowing down the rate of advance in the area.”
The ISW’s latest assessment supports statements made by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova on Saturday that there is “infighting” within the Kremlin’s inner circle amid the war in Ukraine.
The Wagner group has played a vital role in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The ISW said that Russian President Vladimir Putin used the group to “protect his regime from detrimental societal ramifications of mobilization.” This act, however, angered Russia’s military leadership after being forced to share limited equipment and ammunition with Prigozhin’s fighters.
The ISW also said Prigozhin is waging “a relentless defamation campaign.” At one point, he accused Russian military chiefs of treason for starving his troops of ammunition.
So far, the Kremlin has been distancing itself from Prigozhin, with the Wagner leader saying he had been “cut off” from government communication channels after calling out the Russian MoD for the group’s ammunition shortage.