Putin ‘trying to cut ties between two powerful allies’ after ‘blackmail’

Vladimir Putin may be attempting to cut the ties linking two of his powerful allies after they tried to ‘blackmail’ him last month, an analysis has suggested. The Russian military command likely ordered the forces led by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to begin offensive operations in Ukraine as Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group mercenaries start leaving the frontline in the contended city of Bakhmut, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believes.

This move, the analysis noted, may be seen as a retaliatory act by the Russian President, given the Chechenian leader’s troops appear to have remained far from the frontline over the past months.

This claimed return to the offensive of Chechen forces would come almost one year after they last participated in any high-intensity combat operations, the ISW noted.

At the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kadyrov’s forces were in the midst of action in Mariupol, Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk.

On the other hand, over the past months, they carried out offensive operations mainly around Bilohorivka, in the Luhansk area in eastern Ukraine, and in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.

As Kadyrov’s troops are “operating as a police force” in occupied territories rather than fighting on the frontline, the ISW believes their leader may “have been conserving his forces”.

The ISW analysis also read: “Chechen units’ limited participation on the frontlines alongside Kadyrov’s heavy emphasis on recruitment may suggest that Kadyrov is hesitant to commit his forces to grinding offensive operations in Ukraine despite his ultranationalist narratives.”

The repositioning of Kadyrov’s forces, however, may cause a spike in the deaths of the Chechenian troops.

The ISW’s analysis read: “Prigozhin responded on May 31 to reports of Chechen forces transferring to occupied Donetsk Oblast, stating that he is confident that Kadyrov’s forces will be successful in capturing some settlements in the region but emphasized that Kadyrov was not tasked with capturing the entirety of Donetsk Oblast.”

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The analysis went on to claim that Kadyrov “participated in Prigozhin’s blackmail attempt” in early May, when the Russian Defence Ministry was asked to allocate additional military supplies to the Wagner troops in war-torn Bakhmut.

The ISW added: “Kadyrov claimed that his forces would relieve Wagner forces on May 6 and even directly asked Putin to authorize the transfer of Chechen forces from other directions to Bakhmut.

“Putin may have perceived Kadyrov’s behavior as a threat to his control given that Kadyrov and Prigozhin had conducted a successful joint information campaign in early October 2022 to facilitate military command changes.

“Putin or the Russian military command may have ordered Kadyrov to increase the presence of his units on the battlefield in retaliation for Kadyrov’s blackmail attempt.”

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Last month, the leader of the Wagner mercenaries strongly criticised the military leadership in Russia and vocally complained about a lack of ammunition supplies sent to the frontline.

The series of outbursts aimed at the Russian leadership suggested the relationship between Prigozhin and Putin may have turned sour, despite the Wagner leader having previously earned the nickname of Putin’s Chef due to his catering contracts with the Kremlin.

Eastern European news outlet Nexta claimed on Thursday the main part of the Wagner troops in Bakhmut was leaving the frontline.

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