Putin treats Prigozhin ‘with kid gloves’ as Wagner leader is a ‘partner’

Wagner Group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin remains a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a commentator believes.

Canadian journalist Diane Francis pointed out how the founder of the paramilitary troops strolled into St Petersburg while the Russian president was leading a summit with African heads of state.

Noting that some observers found Mr Prigozhin’s presence in Russia “audacious” given it happened just weeks after his troops marched towards Moscow to protest the Russian military leadership, Ms Francis warned not to mistake Putin’s lack of action against the Wagner leader for weakness.

She wrote: “Putin treats Prigozhin with kid gloves, not out of weakness but because they are partners.”

The Wagner Group, she went on to claim, conducts “clandestine warfare and statecraft around the world to advance Russia’s influence”, actions that can only be welcomed by Putin.

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Since it was founded in 2014, the group has “been a key player in Putin’s undeclared War against Europe”, the journalist wrote in an opinion piece shared via her recent substack newsletter and published by the Kyiv Post.

After supporting the Russian invasion of Crimea, Wagner has grown exponentially and expanded across continents, starting operations in Syria as well as several African nations.

As it spreads “Moscow’s sphere of influence”, particularly in African countries, Mr Prigozhin is an invaluable ally of Putin, the journalist suggested.

Speaking after the short-lived mutiny launched by his Wagner Group between June 23 and 24, Mr Prigozhin stressed the uprising was not against the Kremlin or Putin.

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The targets of the move, which sparked fears of a coup in Russia and a run on the ruble, were Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, Mr Prigozhin said.

In the months prior to the uprising, while Wagner troops were being decimated in the long battle for Bakhmut, Mr Prigozhin had lashed out several times at Mr Gerasimov and Mr Shoigu, which he deemed guilty of the negative course of the war for Russia.

The Kremlin has been cautious in denying for years any connections with Wagner.

In 2018, when Wagner was operating in Syria, Putin went as far as to claim that there were no private military companies in Russia.

Only in the wake of the mutiny, Putin stated Prigozhin’s troops had been “fully funded” by Russian authorities, and claimed that between May 2022 and 2023 alone, the Defence Ministry and state budget provided Wagner with £762,419,240 (86bn roubles) for salaries and bonuses.

A recent inquiry by the UK Foreign Affairs Committee also included a witness claiming the first detachments of the paramilitary group were “created under the leadership of representatives of the Russian Ministry of Defence”.

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