Yevgeny Prigozhin, who runs Russian private military company Wagner Group, could eventually succeed Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, former UK military intelligence officer Philip Ingram told Sky News on Jan. 12.
Ingram said the appointment of Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russia’s General Staff, to head the so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine was Putin's attempt to prop up his Defense Ministry, thereby reducing the role of Prigozhin, who “does his own thing.”
Ingram calls Prigozhin a “wild card”. Wagner mercenaries are engaged in ongoing fighting around Bakhmut and Soledar in Donetsk Oblast.
“But he has got a direct link to Vladimir Putin,” said Ingram.
“Strictly speaking, he should be working under the military chain of command, but he seems to do his own thing. He's taking over in so many different areas. He's also reportedly a potential successor to Putin should that come in – and he's been openly critical of both (Russian Defense Minister) Sergei Shoigu and Gerasimov.”
Ukrainian Military Intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov previously said that Wagner mercenaries, initially conceived as an elite unit, are now relegated to serve as cannon fodder for the Russian military.
After invading Russian forces took significant losses during the war in Ukraine, Moscow began recruiting prisoners from Russian penal facilities into the ranks of mercenary companies, notably Wagner.