| 19 April 2024, Friday |

Putin’s former ‘puppet master’ urges an end to mercenary groups like Wagner

President Vladimir Putin’s former chief strategist on Monday urged an end to mercenary groups in Russia after a mutiny by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner militia, cautioning that they interfered with the chain of command.

Vladislav Surkov, once known as the Kremlin’s ‘puppet master’ by friends and foes alike, said “private military companies” were an idea imported from the U.S., created to engage in proxy wars.

“How can a military unit be private in our understanding? This is completely inconsistent with Russian political, managerial and military culture,” Surkov, who left the Kremlin in 2020, said in an interview published by his associate Alexei Chesnakov.

Such groups, Surkov said, risked turning Russia into “some kind of Eurasian tribal zone” while dividing the command of the armed forces as Russia fought what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” (SVO) in Ukraine.

“Why do we need them today when we are openly participating in the battle for Ukraine? This is not a proxy war, this is the SVO,” Surkov said.

“The army must be strengthened not only with weapons, but also with unity of command.”

As first deputy chief of the Kremlin administration from 1999 to 2011, Surkov helped Putin forge his tightly controlled political system. He then worked in the government and later returned to the Kremlin as an adviser to Putin.

He cast Prigozhin as an “oligarch”, detailing the mercenary’s criminal past in St Petersburg.

In 1981, aged 20, Prigozhin was sentenced to 13 years in jail for robbery and assault, including choking a woman until she lost consciousness, according to court documents from the time.

“That’s all you need to know about Prigozhin,” said Surkov.

Prigozhin said on Monday that a one-day mutiny by his Wagner force had been intended not to overthrow Russia’s government but to register a protest over what he said was its ineffectual conduct of the war in Ukraine.

Prigozhin last month said his nickname “Putin’s chef” was stupid as he could not cook, quipping that “Putin’s butcher” might be more apt.

  • Reuters