The tension ahead of the expected Ukrainian counter-offensive is growing. Above all, the Russian elites are losing their nerve and publicly insulting one another.
Little is happening on the fronts in Ukraine. The Russian and Ukrainian armed forces are refraining from large-scale ground attacks, and neither side is currently making any major gains in territory. But the rocket and drone terror continues. Russia repeatedly attacks targets in Ukraine at night. Several drones were also shot down over Moscow on Tuesday. According to experts, it should be the preliminary skirmish before the expected major Ukrainian offensive.
But even before the attack announced by Kiev with Western tanks, the nerves on the Russian side were on edge. The leadership around Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin makes serious accusations against each other and insults each other in public. For Moscow, even the expectation of a possible attack is apparently just as great an endurance test as the attack itself, a kind of psychological terror for Putin and his military. Even if the counteroffensive turns out to be much smaller than many Russian military bloggers feared, the momentum in the war is now back in Ukraine. Putin is passive, he can only react.
Prigozhin scolds, Putin does nothing
Military success depends on soldiers’ trust in their generals. Because they determine their chances of survival. But on the Russian side, this trust seems to be at least broken at the moment.
The British Ministry of Defense and the US think tank Institute for the Study of War repeatedly point out in their analyzes that the combat morale of the Russian army is poor. This is no coincidence, because how trustworthy is a military leadership that repeatedly argues publicly?
The most recent example of this are the statements made by Yevgeny Prigozhin. After the drone attacks on Moscow, the Wagner boss berated the Russian military leadership on his Telegram channel as “stinking bastards” and “assholes”. “Why the hell are you allowing these drones to fly to Moscow?” he scolded. “If they fly to your houses in Rublevka, let your houses burn.” Rublevka is an area west of Moscow that is known for its many luxury villas – Putin is also said to have a property there.
Prigozhin presents himself as a man of the people who stands up to the Russian soldiers in this conflict. In particular, he accuses the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valeri Gerasimov of the sluggish progress of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is their fault that Russia is “years, maybe decades” behind its opponents in developing drones.
How dependent is Putin on the Wagner mercenaries?
Normally, the Wagner boss in Russia would now lead a dangerous life, because his constant ranting orgies are also an indirect criticism of Putin – the commander-in-chief who gave Shoigu and Gerasimov their posts. But Putin doesn’t seem able or willing to control his protégé.
But Prigozhin is also dependent on Putin, because he can only get weapons and equipment for his fighters through the favor of the Kremlin. Conversely, Putin seems to have become dependent on the private armies as the war progresses. It was the Wagner mercenary group that was apparently able to take the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the end, after months of fighting and heavy losses.