On Friday night, political infighting in Moscow spilled out into the open, with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, accusing the Russian military of attacking his forces and vowing to retaliate. In messages published on his official Telegram channel, Prigozhin also claimed that all of the Kremlin’s publicly stated reasons for launching the war in Ukraine were lies. Following these developments, Russia’s state security agency, the FSB, opened a criminal case against Prigozhin, accusing him of calling for an armed rebellion.
The schism between Wagner and the Kremlin has been growing wider over the last several months. Friday night’s messages were not the first time Prigozhin publicly criticized leaders of the Russian military, but up until now Russian President Vladimir Putin had protected him. “Prigozhin’s repeated attacks on the military’s two top leaders seem so out of line that only Putin’s personal support seems able to account for the Wagner leader’s continued role in the war,” Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan wrote in early May. But this prompted the question: “Why is Prigozhin valuable to Putin?”