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Analyzing The Latest Pentagon Leak Claiming That Prigozhin Is Secretly In Cahoots With Kiev
Only the security services can know whether Prigozhin is a patriot or a traitor, and it remains to be seen whether the Defense Ministry will exploit this event, but there’s no doubt that these claims will influence popular perceptions of their rivalry.
The Washington Post (WaPo) claims to have obtained previously unreported documents from the Pentagon leaks alleging that Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is secretly in cahoots with Kiev. This paywalled piece can be read in full for free here. It was published the day after WaPo asked Zelensky about this, who reacted angrily to their summary of these documents’ alleged contents, asked who passed them along, and accused whoever it may have been of committing treason.
That part of their interview was later deleted, but its uncensored version can be read here. Returning back to WaPo’s latest report, they wrote that the previously unreported documents claimed that Prigozhin offered to tell Kiev the locations of Russian troops to attack in exchange for withdrawing from Artyomovsk and thus relieving pressure on his private military company there. He also allegedly complained about ammunition shortages and morale problems while pushing Kiev to invade Crimea.
Prigozhin denied the claim in those documents that he met in Africa with the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Kirill Budanov, who recently told Yahoo News that Kiev will continue killing Russians no matter where they are in the world. He also dismissed their report’s other details as “speculation”. Even so, these allegations are still very serious, but they must be analyzed calmly in order to avoid inadvertently functioning as anyone’s “useful idiot” in this matter.
The context in which these documents were reported is a very sensitive one since the long-running rivalry between Russia’s Defense Ministry (DM) and Wagner finally burst into the open. Prigozhin publicly accused Chief Of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu of withholding ammunition from his group for political reasons, and he also said that they’re lying about reported setbacks along the Line of Contact too. Interested readers can learn more from these analyses:
The timing of WaPo’s latest report therefore couldn’t have been worse for Prigozhin, though this raises the question of whether they waited to share the details of these allegedly unreported documents until the DM-Wagner rivalry finally burst into the open like astute observers expected for some time. Whether they timed their report to indirectly support the DM by discrediting him or if the timing of its release was just coincidental, it’s indisputable that this puts more pressure on Prigozhin at a very sensitive moment.
Regarding its explosive claims, there are three reasons why they shouldn’t be taken at face value. First, there’s nothing unnatural in warring sides retaining back channels like those that Wagner chief Prigozhin allegedly has with GUR chief Budanov. That said, the public rarely understands their use, with many instead regarding them as scandalous at best and treasonous at worst. This explains why Zelensky was so angry that WaPo asked him about them prior to their report’s publication.
Second, even if this particular back channel does indeed exist and was employed by Prigozhin exactly as WaPo reported, that doesn’t automatically mean that he’s secretly in cahoots with Kiev. Disinformation is part of any conflict, and the Russian-NATO proxy war in Ukraine is no exception, which is why nobody can dismiss the scenario of him trying to trick his opponents in coordination with Russian intelligence. This isn’t a so-called “conspiracy theory” either since these sorts of operations occur all the time.
And finally, the preceding two points extend credence to suspicions that the timing of WaPo’s report was intended to inflict maximum reputational damage to Prigozhin amidst his escalating rivalry with the DM, especially since it was presented in a way that calls his loyalty into question. Only the security services can know whether he’s a patriot or a traitor, and it remains to be seen whether the DM will exploit this event, but there’s no doubt that these claims will influence popular perceptions of their rivalry.