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ISW: Russian Defense Ministry appears to deliberately expend Wagner forces in Bakhmut to derail Prigozhin’s political aspirations
On March 12, Russian political scientist Aleksey Mukhin commented on sarcastic remarks made by Yevgeny Prigozhin in which he said he intends to run for the office of the President of Ukraine in 2024.
Mukhin said on his Telegram channel that the Russian public began to interpret Prigozhin’s statement as an announcement that he will run for the Russian presidential elections, also scheduled for 2024. The political scientist also rhetorically asked if Prigozhin notified Russian President Vladimir Putin about his “presidential ambitions,” the Institute for the Study of War said on March 13.
Prigozhin is the financier and the head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which has been active on the front lines in eastern Ukraine.
Mukhin argued that Prigozhin’s presentation of himself as the “commander” of the Wagner private military company “directly affects the planning and management of the assault squads’ combat operations.”
"Mukhin’s attack on Prigozhin is in line with ISW’s March 12 assessment that the Russian Ministry of Defense may be deliberately expending Wagner forces in Bakhmut in part to derail Prigozhin’s political aspirations," the institute said. "Mukhin’s accusations also support ISW’s assessment that the Kremlin and Russian MoD may be attempting to blame Prigozhin for the slowed pace of advance in Bakhmut and for high casualties among Wagner mercenaries."
Mukhin’s statement showcases how the Kremlin may perceive Prigozhin’s controversial statements and his threat to Putin’s regime. ISW previously observed harsh criticism towards Prigozhin from military bloggers such as disgraced Russian officer Igor Girkin, but Mukhin’s statement is notable because of his existing affiliation with the Kremlin-affiliated Valdai Discussion Club.