23 JANUARY 2023
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has noted that Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin has begun to lose credibility in the eyes of Russian President Vladimir Putin after the many months of failed attempts to capture Bakhmut.
Details: ISW said that “Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s star has begun to set” after months of apparent rise following his failure to make good on promises of capturing Bakhmut with his private forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had probably turned his hopes to Prigozhin, along with Prigozhin’s ally, Army General Sergey Surovikin, to gain ground and break the will of Ukraine, along with its Western backers, after the conventional Russian military had culminated and suffered disastrous setbacks there.
At the same time, the Russian Defence Ministry and General Staff, headed by Sergey Shoigu and Army General Valery Gerasimov respectively, have turned their attention to mobilising Russian reservists and conscripts; and setting conditions for improved performance by the conventional Russian military, but they had little hope of achieving anything decisive in the autumn and early winter of 2022.
Putin apparently decided to give Prigozhin and Surovikin a chance to show what they could do relying on mobilised prisoners on the one hand, and a brutal air campaign targeting Ukrainian civilian infrastructure on the other.
As ISW noted, both efforts failed.
Prigozhin appears to have believed during this time that his star truly was on the rise and that he was in a position to challenge Gerasimov and even Shoigu for preeminence in Russian military affairs. Those hopes now seem to have been delusional.
ISW’s analysis is that Putin has decided to turn away from relying on Prigozhin, and his irregular forces, and to place his trust instead in Gerasimov, Shoigu, and Russia’s Armed Forces.
Such a decision by Putin would marginalise the Wagner Group and the siloviki faction [a small group of Russian businessmen and leaders with meaningful power bases and parallel military companies that includes individuals such as Prigozhin – ed.] that nevertheless continues to fight in Ukraine.
Putin is further attempting to rebuild both the Russian Defence Ministry’s authority and reputation, which had been badly damaged by failures in 2022 and heavily attacked by the siloviki faction for many months.
Prigozhin likely imagined that his efforts in Ukraine would continue to lend him military and political power in Russia.
However, according to the ISW summary, both the intensification of the Battle for Bakhmut in December and its subsequent culmination may also indicate that Prigozhin tried and failed to outshine the Russian Defence Ministry before the start of 2023.
Prigozhin’s recent apparent fall from grace and influence likely reflects the real limitations on his actual power, ISW noted.
The intelligence of ISW noted: “Prigozhin is unlikely to disappear from Putin’s circle permanently. He could possibly rise again if Gerasimov and his cronies fail Putin once again.” But Prigozhin, at least for now, is apparently an increasingly spent force in the Kremlin circle.
Considering its previous conclusions, ISW summed up that Putin’s actions have put Russia back on a course toward rebuilding its military. “NATO would do well to take note of this development as a matter of its own future security,” beyond anything it might envision for Ukraine.
Key inflections from ISW in ongoing military operations on 22 January:
- Vyacheslav Volodin, Russian State Duma Chairman, made uncredible threats of nuclear escalation as part of an ongoing information operation aimed at deterring the West from providing further military aid to Ukraine.
- Russian milbloggers on 22 January continued to discuss the potential of a pending major Russian or Ukrainian offensive and speculated as to which areas present the highest priority targets.
- Russian forces continued limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line on 22 January. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces struck an industrial facility in Kadiivka, Luhansk Oblast with HIMARS rockets.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations on the Bakhmut front and Donetsk – Avdiivka areas.
- Russian sources claimed on 22 January that Russian forces continued offensive operations on two fronts in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, with their main efforts focusing on the Huliaipole and Orikhiv fronts. However Yevhen Yerin, Head of the joint press centre for Ukraine’s Defence Forces on the Tavriya front, stated on 22 January that Russian forces are not conducting large-scale operations on the Zaporizhzhia front.
- Russian occupation authorities continued commandeering civilian infrastructure facilities in occupied territories at the expense of civilian health and safety on 22 January.