This conflict is a test for Putin. If he does not resolve it within two weeks or a month, the system will be on the verge of collapse.
The confrontation between Shoigu and Prigozhin has escalated. Prigozhin relentlessly attacks the leadership of the Ministry of Defence in the information sphere. Shoigu demanded that all “volunteer formations” sign a contract with the MoD in order to take revenge in the administrative and bureaucratic sphere. Prigozhin, as expected, refused. The state’s monopoly on force is in fact being destroyed. Other powers (Kadyrov, corporate armies, PMCs) will wait to see how this will play out. The situation can only be resolved by Putin. But there is no question that he will be able to halt the collapse of the system, which is already well underway.
Shoigu has signed an order requiring all Russian volunteer units to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defence by 1 July. “The signing of contracts by citizens with the state means, first and foremost, that the social protection and support measures established by the state will be extended to them and their families,” explained Deputy Minister Pankov.
Prigozhin responded by saying: “The PMC “Wagner” will not sign any contracts with Shoigu. … Shoigu cannot manage the military formations properly. So whatever decrees or orders he may write, they will apply only to the Ministry of Defence and to those who are in the Ministry of Defence. … The PMC “Wagner” is completely subordinated to the interests of Russia and the supreme commander. The PMC “Wagner” coordinates all its actions on the territory and carries out the tasks assigned to it by Army General Surovikin in accordance with the orders of Gerasimov and Shoigu.
- Shoigu has decided to “take up the gauntlet” thrown down by Prigozhin and try to “rein in” the bureaucracy that “Wagner” headed.
- The Defence Minister’s hopes for success could be based on the fact that the previous similar action (since 1 January Prigozhin was removed from recruiting prisoners, transferring this resource to the Defence Ministry and PMCs, focused on Shoigu) was successful. But in that case, Shoigu was simply depriving Prigozhin of a resource he had no control over (FSIN). In this case, it is an attempt to do away with a resource that is entirely under Prigozhin’s control.
- Prigozhin formally emphasises that the conflict is personal. (He denigrates Shoigu, praises Surovikin and declares “loyalty” to Putin). But in reality, it is a conflict between the private army and the Russian armed forces.
- Only Putin can resolve the conflict after Prigozhin’s refusal. There are two possibilities for the solution of the conflict: Shoigu’s resignation and Prigozhin’s removal from public life.
- If the former happens, the elites will get the signal that Prigozhin has “pushed” Putin. Consequently, “it’s all right”. 5.If the latter happens, Russia loses a valuable military resource.
- So far, Putin seems to be inclined towards the second scenario. To this end, he is “highlighting” the participation in the war of an alternative source of power: Kadyrov’s formations, which are comparable in numbers to those of Prigozhin.
- Putin himself has created the conditions for the destruction of the state monopoly on violence by establishing a “system of checks and balances” (modelled on the bureaucratic apparatus) in the invading army.
- Russia already possesses powerful armed groups (“Wagner” and Kadyrov’s units) which are not fully controlled by the military-political leadership. There are a number of PMCs. Some of them will not necessarily come under the control of the MoD. There are de facto private armies (departmental PMCs, corporate security companies). There is an increase in the strength of the armed opposition (Russian Volunteer Corps/ Legion “Freedom of Russia”).
- Putin has a few weeks to a month (before the 1st of July – date mentioned in the decree of Shoigu). An uncontrolled escalation between the holders of power will begin if he does not resolve the conflict.
- Unlike the “Kremlin towers”, the centres of influence with power resources have weapons, including heavy ones. They cannot be “crushed” with the help of the security forces, as has been the case with “rogue” officials.
- Russia has come a few steps closer to a civil war.