While Mr Prigozhin’s uprising looks like a desperate act to stop his private army being incorporated into regular forces, some wonder if broader intra-elite conflict lies in the background. The Wagner chief had become increasingly brazen in his attacks on the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, and commander in chief, Valery Gerasimov. Initially there were suggestions that he might be acting with the approval of the Kremlin. But on Friday, Mr Prigozhin attacked not only the execution of the war but its very rationale, before claiming that Russian forces had killed scores of his men in a rocket attack and demanding revenge on the “evil” military leadership. A day later – after Mr Putin accused him of treason – he challenged his master outright for the first time.
Mr Prigozhin’s hubris was already astounding. His unlikely rise saw him evolve from petty thug to a thug on a grand scale, via a hotdog stand and military catering contracts. Wagner, a network of companies, is believed to have sent mercenaries to about 30 countries. Mr Prigozhin set up troll factories, too, and was indicted in the US over interference in the 2016 US election. Wagner was judged to allow Russia “plausible deniability”, and its founder himself disclaimed the group, suing media who had alleged connections before acknowledging his role last September.
His claim that he stood down his men to prevent bloodshed raised eyebrows, given the atrocities of which Wagner forces have been accused in Ukraine, Syria, Central African Republic and other nations. He presumably realised that he could not amass enough support. But he has not been punished – yet – and was said to be going to Belarus, supposedly following the mediation of its leader, Alexander Lukashenko.TheVoiceOfJoyce