Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin is Putin's attack dog, not an independent agent, whom the Kremlin is using to intimidate the West and show that Putin is a sensible man in comparison, historian Andrei Hvostov said on the "Vikerhommik" morning show.
"What we know about Prigozhin is that he's Putin's attack dog. He is not an independent player. Russia's social system is built on the mystical power vertical, several in fact. The term "Kremlin towers" has made its way into colloquial speech. These verticals of power are created where big money meets a power structure. Prigozhin has no such structure backing him up. While his group of mercenaries was originally created following the initiative of Russia's military intelligence, there is no money behind it, and Prigozhin's boasting is only possible because Putin himself backs him," Hvostov suggested.
Some Russian political analysts suggest that the attack dog may have gotten loose and may be fixing to bite Putin's hand. Others believe Prigozhin is still firmly on the leash and his actions and statements serve the purpose of intimidating the West, especially USA.
"So they would think about what could happen after the war, which Russia is likely to lose, think about possible alternatives to Putin. Whether that alternative is Prigozhin who has proposed a lot of crazy ideas, wants a regime reminiscent of North Korea in Russia, planned economy and militant communism. Attempts to frighten the West this way, make it look like Putin is a sensible man compared to Prigozhin."
Hvostov said that Prigozhin is not influential domestically as he is virtually absent from Russian television. His statements are predominantly made on social media, which a large part of the Russian society does not follow.
"Domestically, this role falls to Dmitri Medvedev who is also saying the craziest things. His domestic image of a mean alcoholic as opposed to Putin's benevolent abstainer could work on the electorate to promote the latter," Hvostov suggested.
Those Russian political analysts who support the version of Prigozhin becoming alienated from the Kremlin, suggest he is indirectly also criticizing Putin.
"However, Prigozhin is mainly attacking the Ministry of Defense and relaying the mood in the trenches. Criticizing the elite is also a staple in his rhetoric. That simple Russians are sitting in trenches, while the offspring of the elite are nowhere to be seen. This works on the common people. Unlike the wider Russian society, soldiers know Prigozhin, he is moderately popular, and being the representative of rank and file soldiers lends one political weight in Russia."
Hvostov was reluctant to speculate when asked whether Prigozhin or Medvedev would make the worse successor to Putin.
"It's like choosing between cholera and the plague. Let's start by admitting that we don't know how this thing will end. History tells us that all manner of surprises are possible in Russia. No one in their right mind could have imagined Vladimir Ulyanov coming to power in 1917. Things happening out of the blue are by no means out of the question."
Hvostov also suggested that the Ukrainian offensive, at least the psychological part, has already been launched.
"Modern warfare is multifaceted, and psychology is not least among those facets. We have been suggesting since December that the offensive is about to start, and it is definitely having an effect on the Russians. The Ukrainians managed to hack into Crimean television yesterday where a news program was interrupted to cut to a video depicting Ukrainian soldiers pointing their fingers at their mouths to send the message that while we're not talking about the offensive, we will be coming soon. I think it caused panic among those Crimean residents who saw the clip," Hvostov suggested.
Editor: Marcus Turovski