News Russia shakes up military leadership again: live updates

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It’s a remarkable transformation. Nearly a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, the head of Russia’s largest mercenary group, which has long denied ties to the military, has become something of a public face for Moscow’s war effort.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner’s private military company, has become an example of a Kremlin outsider challenging Russia’s traditional elite, analysts say, highlighting how Moscow’s setbacks in Ukraine are changing the country’s power structure .

In recent months, Prigorzhin has sought to position himself as an indispensable military leader for the Kremlin, even as he has stepped up his criticism of the Russian Defense Ministry. He recruited tens of thousands of prisoners of war to his mercenary army, strengthened the fighting power of Russia’s devastated state, handed out medals, visited military cemeteries, and, according to his often aired videos, made an unexpected appearance on the toughest front lines part.

Prigozhin this week described himself as the mastermind behind Russia’s biggest military victory in months: a breakthrough in the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar.

Mr Prigozhin, in full combat gear, appeared to be surrounded by his fighters at what he claimed was the underground salt mine of Soledar, according to photos posted late Tuesday by Russian state news agencies and Wagner-affiliated social media. Mr Prigozhin claims the city is entirely under his control and credits him with the apparent success.

“Except for PMC Wagner fighters, no other troops were involved in the attack on Soledad,” Mr Prigozhin said in an audio message posted on the Telegram messaging app, which uses the Russian word for the private military company’s capital. acronym.

Ukraine, which disputes his claim of outright victory, said on Wednesday that fighting continued west of the town.

Notably, the Kremlin and the Russian military have also refuted Mr Prigozhin’s claims. Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that its regular forces were “fighting inside the city,” and Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov said the capture of Soledar would be an important but costly tactical success , rather than turning views once.

It was just the latest sign of tension between Wagner and Russia’s armed forces, which analysts said suggested that President Vladimir V. Putin’s support was happening as Ukraine’s military prospects dimmed. struggle.

In late December, Wagner fighters released a profanity-filled video to the military high command in which they accused him of withholding ammunition and causing the deaths of fellow soldiers. Mr. Prigozhin responded to the video by saying, “It’s hard to hear questions from the front when you’re sitting in a warm office,” apparently referring to the generals.

Last week, Grayzone, a prominent Telegram news channel linked to Prigozhin, published photos of a supposedly intact building that had been destroyed, refuting the Defense Ministry’s claim that 600 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in an airstrike.

Abbas Galyamov, a former speechwriter for the president, said Mr Prigozhin’s attempt to attribute Soledar’s victory to him showed his growing political ambitions and Underscored how those outside the Kremlin are challenging Mr Putin’s traditional circles following setbacks in Ukraine. he.

Mr Galyamov said Mr Prigozhin was seeking to replace Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a longtime close friend of Mr Putin who many Russian ultra-nationalists blame for Ukraine’s military disaster.

“Putin is now so dependent on the effectiveness of his army that when choosing a new minister he does not consider anything other than how to increase the effectiveness of the army,” Galyamov wrote in a Facebook post. road. “I used to think it was crazy to appoint Prigo as a minister, but there’s been a lot going on in our country lately and you can’t rule anything out.”

Oleg Matsnev contributed research.

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