Published: 12:01 BST, 8 October 2022 | Updated: 12:37 BST, 8 October 2022
Chechen boss Ramzan Kadyrov and founder of the Wagner ‘private army’ or militia Yevgeny Prigozhin have turned on the minister amid heavy defeats and losses over the last two weeks, The Guardian reports.
It comes after Russia illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions including Donetsk and Luhansk in an announcement to which he gathered all of the country’s top leaders and told the world the regions would ‘remain with Russia forever.’
But just 24 hours later, there was clear evidence Ukraine was making major gains in the regions, recapturing land that Putin had just claimed as part of Russia.
This week gains in the south and east of Ukraine continued and triggered the two army leaders to openly ‘declare war’ on the Defence Minister, who is an easy target to blame for Russia’s poor military results.
The Kremlin is turning to increasingly desperate measures in order to save face and try and halt the Ukrainian advance, including recruiting prisoners straight out of jail and, now, open infighting.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu speaks during a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday as senior figures declared war on him and his department
Founder of Putin’s private militia, or Wagner unit, Yevgeny Prigozhin has had a long-standing feud with the Defence Minister
Chechnya’s regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov was one of those who attended Moscow and signed the treaties which illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions on September 30
‘Putin is a very destructive personality, he will play the different factions off each other and see what the best outcome will be,’ a former Defence Ministry official told the Guardian.
‘He doesn’t know how to fix relationships, so in the end, someone will fall victim. Putin just wants to see what is best for him and the war in Ukraine.’
The feud between Prigozhin and Shoigu is said to stretch back long before the start of the seven-month war in Ukraine, and is said to have started after Prigozhin formed the Wagner unit during the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Former Wagner Commander Marat Gabidullin told The Guardian: ‘On the current wave of patriotism, he wants to position himself as a fierce defender of the motherland who created a professional military organisation.
‘He wants to show that he can fight better than the regular army. We always had tensions with the ministry of defence, we really didn’t like each other.’
Prigozhin is now said to have teamed up with Chechen leader Kadyrov in an effort to oust the minister.
Kadyrov has established the North Caucasus republic in an effort to ally closely with Putin, but has publicly turned on the Defence Ministry in recent weeks, becoming one of their staunchest critics.
He claims that his soldiers could take Kyiv ‘within days’ even after the Russian Army has been forced back.
Shortly after the Russian defeat last week at Lyman, a crucial railway hub in the Donetsk region, Kadyrov unleashed a withering attack on the Russian general staff and at the central military district commander Alexander Lapin.
In a series of messages on Telegram last week, the unlikely duo teamed up to launch scathing attacks on defence strategy.
‘The shame isn’t that Lapin is incompetent,’ Kadyrov wrote.
‘It’s that he’s being shielded from above by the leadership in the General Staff.
‘If it was up to me, I would bust him down to a private, take away his medals and send him with a rifle to the front in order to cleanse his shame in blood.’
‘Military nepotism will not lead anywhere good,’ he added.
Prigozhin added: ‘Beautiful, Ramzan, keep it up. These punks should be shipped to the front barefoot with machine guns.’
Putin famously pits his inferiors against one another – a cunning strategy which prevents anyone getting too ambitious against him, but also breeds bitter rivalries at a time the nation is looking increasingly foolish on the national stage.
Russia is now having to resort to increasingly desperate tactics, which include recruiting dangerous criminals directly out of its prisons.
Footage circling on social media, alongside interviews undertaken by The Guardian, show the Prigozhin himself is visiting prisons across the country and offering convicts freedom if they fight in Ukraine for six months.
It is said they receive just one week of training and are warned they are unlikely to come back from the frontline.
The measures are being pushed through against the backdrop of increasingly embarrassing defeats for the Kremlin.
Just this morning, hours after Putin’s 70th birthday, Ukrainian saboteurs were thought to be behind a major explosion which has destroyed part of the only bridge linking Crimea to Russia – threatening already stretched Russian supply and reinforcement lines.
Although Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for the attack, one Ukrainian official boasted that ‘Putin should be happy. Not everyone gets such an expensive birthday present’ – a reference to the Russian president’s 70th birthday yesterday.