April 10, 2023
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is reportedly advancing his political aspirations by seeking to gain control of a Russian political party. Russian opposition outlet Meduza reported that Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s growing cooperation with members of the A Just Russia — For Truth party likely indicates that Prigozhin seeks to gain control over the party. Meduza noted that four members of the party left to form a new movement, with some members citing the rapprochement between party leader Sergey Mironov and Prigozhin as the reason for their exit. ISW has consistently reported on the growing relationship between Mironov and Prigozhin and assessed that Mironov’s advocacy for recognition of Wagner in Russia could trigger further fractionalization within the Kremlin. Two Kremlin sources and one St. Petersburg government insider claimed that Prigozhin is pursuing a leadership position within A Just Russia — For Truth’s St. Petersburg branch to compete with St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov for influence in the city. Meduza’s sources claimed that Prigozhin previously was interested in investing in the “Motherland” political party and may be interested in pursuing a position on the federal level. Mironov, in turn, is likely attempting to revive his political influence and use Prigozhin as a patron for his political ambitions. Meduza’s interlocutors indicated that the Russian Presidential Administration is unlikely to allow Prigozhin to gain control of the A Just Russia — For Truth party due to Prigozhin’s conflict with administration officials and with Beglov.
The Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) directly responded to Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s criticisms of its agenda for Russia’s presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), marking the first time that a Russian government institution has formally responded Prigozhin’s criticism. Prigozhin criticized the MFA’s work in Africa on April 7, claiming that the Russian MFA does “absolutely nothing” and that Wagner forces face “enormous difficulties” when interacting with the MFA and other government institutions in the region. The MFA responded to Prigozhin’s criticism on April 9 and said that it is ready to cooperate with Russian businesses and entrepreneurs to promote Russian businesses abroad and that a number of upcoming events under Russia’s UNSC chairmanship are dedicated to African issues. Prigozhin then responded to the MFA, questioning its ability to solve problems through the UNSC, and published a list of 15 issues that Prigozhin believes require urgent discussion at the UNSC, most of which relate to support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Africa.
The Russian MFA’s attack on Prigozhin is a continuation of the Kremlin’s efforts to discredit and undermine Prigozhin. The MFA, other Russian government institutions, and Kremlin affiliates likely seek to shut down any attempts by Prigozhin to garner public or political support. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) refused to name Wagner forces as participants in the battle of Bakhmut, referring instead to “assault detachments.” Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov indirectly accused Prigozhin of deliberately exposing conflicts between the MoD and Wagner. Russian political scientist Aleksey Mukhin — who contributes to the Kremlin-affiliated Valdai Discussion Club and Russian state media — criticized Prigozhin for pursuing political objectives that endanger Wagner forces in Bakhmut. Prigozhin likely criticized the Russian MFA agenda in the UNSC in an effort to portray himself as a capable statesman able to influence foreign affairs and to garner support from the Russian ultranationalist community. Prigozhin continues to attempt to aggrandize himself by exaggerating Wagner forces’ role in Russian successes in Ukraine and using his prominence in the Russian nationalist information space to criticize the Russian government.
Russian milbloggers adamantly decried the charging of Russian military doctor and “Union of Donbas Volunteers” member Yuri Yevich for “discrediting the Russian armed forces,” suggesting that the broad applications of this new law will likely be a growing source of discontent in the pro-war information space. Russian authorities reportedly charged Yevich under the discreditation law because of a lecture on tactical medicine he gave to Rosgvardia employees, which someone reported to the authorities as offering a “negative assessment” of Russian forces. Yevich fought with Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) militias in Donbas after 2014 and was a part of the ”Union of Donbas volunteers” following the full-scale invasion in 2022. Yevich became popular in the pro-war Russian information space for popularizing and advocating for the application of tactical combat medicine on the battlefield. Several pro-war milbloggers and commentators seized on the news of Yevich’s arrest and criticized Russian authorities for targeting someone whom they deem to be a true Russian patriot. Many milbloggers noted that Yevich’s charging will become a carte blanche for Russian authorities to sanction every Russian soldier, volunteer, and patriot and questioned the legitimacy of both the case against Yevich and the law itself. Yevich likely presented an important truth regarding the state of Russian combat medicine to an internal audience and was arrested for it. If the Kremlin uses this law to shut down honest critiques of the performance of Russian forces or the Russian government even during internal discussions it runs a very high risk of repeating the kinds of fundamental errors that led to the failure of the initial Russian plans and campaign in February 2022.
The Russian State Duma will consider an amendment to the Russian Criminal Code increasing criminal penalties for high treason and terrorist activities on April 13. The Russian State Duma Committee on State Construction and Legislation approved amendments to the Russian Criminal Code that would introduce life prison sentences for high treason and increase prison sentences for terrorist activities, including conducting terrorist activities, aiding terrorist activities, sabotaging transport and health infrastructure and, organizing and participating in a terrorist society. The Russian Criminal Code’s definition of treason is likely intentionally vague, including espionage, passing state secrets to foreign governments or their representatives, and providing financial, logistical, consulting, or other assistance to foreign organizations engaged in activities directed against Russian state security. Such legislative manipulations are part of a larger domestic effort to encourage self-censorship and codify conditions for domestic repressions, as ISW has previously reported.
Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus, on April 10. Shoigu and Lukashenko mainly used the meeting to reiterate boilerplate rhetoric that emphasized the strength of Russian and Belarusian bilateral cooperation and blamed NATO and the collective West for threatening Belarusian territorial integrity. Lukashenko expressed his gratitude that Russia maintains a military presence in Belarus and accused Poland and Lithuania of threatening the Belarusian borders, while Shoigu thanked Lukashenko for providing Belarusian training grounds for the use of Russian troops.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is reportedly advancing his political aspirations by seeking to gain control of a Russian political party.
- Putin may be unable to satisfy the role of a patron to loyalist figures to the same extent as he had been able to before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
- The Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) directly responded to Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s criticisms of its agenda at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), marking the first time that a Russian government institution has formally responded to Prigozhin’s criticism.
- The Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) attack on Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is a continuation of the Kremlin’s efforts to discredit and undermine Prigozhin.
- Russian milbloggers adamantly decried the charging of Russian military doctor and “Union of Donbas Volunteers” member Yuri Yevich for “discrediting the Russian armed forces,” suggesting that the broad applications of this new law will likely be a growing source of discontent in the pro-war information space.
- The Russian State Duma will consider an amendment to the Russian Criminal Code increasing criminal penalties for high treason and terrorist activities on April 13.
- Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus, on April 10.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued to make territorial gains in and around Bakhmut, and continued ground attacks on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
- Russian forces continued defensive preparations in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin criticized Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) prisoner recruitment efforts, likely in an effort to advertise ongoing Wagner volunteer recruitment campaigns.
- Wagner forces are reportedly continuing to commit war crimes by beheading Ukrainian servicemen in Bakhmut.
- Russian officials and occupation authorities continue to deport children to Russia under the guise of medical, rehabilitation, and voluntary evacuation schemes.