Bakhmut withdrawal backpedaling suggests Prigozhin’s diminished leverage – ISW

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Yevgeny Prigozhin, financier of the Wagner Group,has backpedaled on his earlier ultimatum to withdraw forces from Bakhmut, Ukraine, if Russia’s Ministry of Defense does not deliver sufficient ammunition, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). His backtracking suggests a lack of leverage within the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), contrary to what was previously perceived.

Prigozhin, who was expected to enforce the withdrawal by his self-imposed deadline of 10 May, decided to continue fighting for Bakhmut despite not receiving the ammunition promised by the Russian MoD. On 9 May, Prigozhin revealed that Wagner received only 10% of the requested ammunition on 8 May. He added that an order from the Russian MoD threatened Wagner with treason if they withdrew from Bakhmut, likely a factor in his decision not to follow through with his threat.

Prigozhin’s failure to carry out his threat, as ISW notes, shows his awareness of his reliance on the Russian MoD. The financier had sought to pressure the MoD into prioritizing the Bakhmut offensive, hoping to claim an independent victory in the city. However, his inability to enforce his demands and his failure to reach Army General Sergey Surovikin, the deputy theater commander in Ukraine and the intermediary between the Russian MoD and Wagner, signal a lack of influence within the ministry.

In the same vein, Prigozhin used the Victory Day holiday to mock and question the judgment of President Putin, often referred to as the “grandfather.” He criticized unnamed figures, likely referring to Putin and senior Russian MoD figures, for showing off on Red Square. His escalating attacks on Putin, if left unchecked by the Kremlin, could further erode the established norm where individual actors can vie for position and influence but not openly criticize Putin.

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