Russian civil war fears as Chechen warlord plans private army

Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov wants his own private army to rival the infamous Wagner Group in a move which hints at the chaos likely to engulf Russia should President Vladimir Putin be ousted. And one UK-based expert says the latest remarks by the self-styled “strongman” raised questions about the future of Russia – which could potentially descend into “competing fiefdoms” without Putin at the top.

Kadyrov, the 46-year-old head of the Chechen Republic, who has in the past urged Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, has made little attempt to disguise his contempt for Russia’s military commanders since the start of the war, while being careful not to criticize Putin himself.

However, his latest message on the Telegram messaging service could certainly be seen as looking ahead to a time when the 70-year-old was no longer his country’s ruler.

On the face of it, Kadyrov heaped praise on Wagner, bankrolled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, for its “successes”, describing it as a “private military company” which had “managed to achieve very impressive results”.

He added: “Despite all the difficulties, ‘Wagner’ achieves his goal in any situation.”

Using the abbreviation for a private military company, he continued: “Already now we can confidently say that the Wagner has ironically proven its effectiveness in military terms and has drawn a line under the talk about the need for PMCs.

“Without any doubt, such professional formations are needed and necessary.

“Therefore, when I finish my work in the civil service, I seriously plan to compete with our dear BROTHER Evgeny Prigozhin and create a private military company. I think everything will work out.”

Prigozhin has likewise been critical of Russian strategy since the start of the invasion and recently claimed he would risk arrest in order to secure the ammunition he says his men need.

He said: “As far as regular supplies go, I have knocked on the door of every office in Moscow I know and I will try to do that until the lads get all they need.”

He vowed to continue “even if they handcuff me at one of those offices and jail me for ‘discrediting the armed forces’,” in an apparent reference to Russia’s war censorship laws making it an offense to criticize what Vladimir Putin calls a “special military operation”.

An analysis by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, published the day before Kadyrov’s post, highlighted an apparent split between Kadyrov and Putin.

The report claims Kadyrov “appears to have rejected overtures from Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin to join a renewed informational campaign against the Russian MoD, suggesting that this campaign may fail to restore Prigozhin’s waning influence”.

It continues: “Kadyrov likely responded to the Russian MoD’s confirmation of the four military district commanders on February 17, stating that Chechen formations will follow the orders of any commander appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and that Chechen combat officers have an excellent well-coordinated relationship with the MoD.

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“Kadyrov’s endorsement of the Russian MoD follows Prigozhin’s attempt to court Kadyrov’s support through a publicized visit to a wounded Akhmat Special Forces commander on February 16.”

Prigozhin’s and Kadyrov’s “divergent attitudes” towards the MoD were notable because Prigozhin used Kadyrov’s criticism of Russian military officials in October 2022 to “undermine” the MoD and establish the Wagner Group as Russia’s elite force in Ukraine, the report points out.

It adds: “Kadyrov likely refused to join Prigozhin’s renewed informational attack against the MoD because his formal ties to the Kremlin and position in the Russian government are more beneficial than any political relationship with Prigozhin could be.

“Prigozhin is likely trying to enlist ultranationalist figures within the Kremlin and select Russian mil bloggers to support his quest for authority in Russia but will likely find that those with ties to the Kremlin may turn away from him to retain their patronage.”

Both Kadyrov and Prigozhin – sometimes referred to as “Putin’s chef” because of his business links with the catering industry – are sometimes touted as potential successors to Putin should he be ousted.

Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody, a Lecturer in Politics and International Studies at the Open University, told “Ramzan Kadyrov styles himself as a military strongman and he has form for posting cringeworthy ‘tough guy’ content to social media – training montages and the like.”

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While his latest remarks were “absolutely on brand for him” they also raised “bigger questions”, she stressed.

Dr Chatterje-Doody explained: “For a long time we’ve seen competition and conflict in Russia between different security services and centers of power.

“If the Russian state cannot retain the monopoly on violence, then this competition could plausibly start looking more like competing fiefdoms.”

Britain’s Ministry of Defense today suggested Putin was under pressure to score significant military victories in eastern Ukraine with Friday’s anniversary approaching.

It tweeted: “It is likely that Russia will claim that Bakhmut has been captured to align with the anniversary, regardless of the reality on the ground.

“If Russia’s spring offensive fails to achieve anything then tensions within the Russian leadership will likely increase.”

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