Whispers from the head of Russia’s shadow army replacing Putin draw a response

Concord Press Service/via Reuters

Wagner group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin made a name for himself by having his men kill as many Ukrainians as possible President Vladimir Putin— but some analysts are now saying he is indeed vying for the presidential throne.

“Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin may be using his influence in Russia’s mainstream media landscape to present himself as a contender in the 2024 Russian presidential election,” according to the DC-based Institute for the Study of War called Tuesday.

Analysts at the think tank argued that in a recent video interview with Russian journalists, the mercenary boss “appeared to mimic the way Russian President Vladimir Putin films his choreographed public meetings, either to quietly mock Putin or to subtly hint that Prigozhin might go Russian President like Putin.”

He has also taken steps to differentiate himself from the “elite” in the Kremlin and the Defense Ministry, analysts note, by defying the narrative that Russia is at war with Nazis and NATO and routinely criticizing senior military officials.

“Prigozhin’s recent behavior, regardless of intent, promotes a narrative in Russian society that Prigozhin has greater political ambitions in Russia,” ISW wrote.

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The Kremlin-linked businessman – long before he ever admitted his role in Wagner – known as the mastermind overseeing Russia’s vast network of internet trolls – has denied any political ambitions.

When asked by a journalist on Wednesday whether he actually had his sights set on political office, he said blown a seal: “A law is urgently needed. So that anyone who says ‘political ambitions’ will be shot immediately.”

But on the same day he threw his support behind an enemy of the Kremlin in a move aimed at portraying him as a noble leader standing up for ordinary people trampled by the country’s elite (a common theme in all his recent public statements).

In a letter to prosecutors in the Tula region, Prigozhin championed Alexei Moskalev, a single father who was sentenced to two years in prison earlier this week for allegedly “discrediting” the Russian military. Moskalev was arrested just a day after his then 12-year-old daughter drew an anti-war picture at school.

Prigozhin called the sentence against Moskalev “unfair” and appealed to the prosecutor’s office to reconsider the case so that Moskalev’s daughter is not forced to live in an orphanage.

“Wagner fighters defend the interests of the Russian Federation and die with honor for our Motherland and the future of our children. After the death of many of our comrades, their families, wives and children are left behind. Often these children, who have no other relatives, end up in orphanages. We believe this is a great tragedy for Russia and our country’s future,” Prigozhin wrote, conveniently omitting the many children orphaned by his own private army.

The move was quickly praised by pro-Kremlin pundits.

“Prigozhin is an absolutely brilliant man who, unlike the faceless ‘technocrats’, has read Dostoyevsky and understands that defending the ‘humiliated and offended’ is something that will always resonate in the Russian heart. And the Russian people will always despise and hate the ‘technocrat’ who lacks all sympathy,” wrote propagandist Sergei Mardan.

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Prigozhin’s appeal to prosecutors also came as a thumb in the eye from the Kremlin, which recently banned him from its prison recruitment program in Ukraine and appears to be trying to curb his growing influence.

While Prigozhin played the compassionate savior, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman played Dmitry Peskov defended the verdict against Moskalev earlier on Wednesday and took a hit at his “deplorable” parenting skills.

Aside from the prospects of Prigozhin attempting to make himself the country’s next leader, however, some see another explanation for his recent moves.

“Prigozhin is weak, he got into trouble with everyone and lost supplies of food to the army, and he is forced to advertise his activities on porn sites. I think he should go to Africa in the near future, and it’s unlikely that he’ll last long physically – he’ll be poisoned, or shot, or there’ll be an accident,” Olga Romanova, the founder of Russia Behind Bars, said in one interview earlier this week.

She said his actions showed he was “hysterical” at losing power.

“We recently seriously discussed that he can influence not only Russian, but also world politics – and now he is being swept under the bench. … It is a shameful, naturally conditioned end, and I really hope that another similar villain does not come and take his place.”

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Source : news.yahoo.com

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