Russian media and the Kremlin appear to be escalating a smear campaign against Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group that led a brief uprising against Moscow last month, in an effort to discredit Prigozhin while praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia appears to be escalating a smear campaign against Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Russian state television networks were increasingly critical of Prigozhin over the last week, according to the Washington Post, as some outlets featured leaked photos of Prigozhin’s home, which featured images of wigs, gold bars, a sledgehammer and a weapon stash.
The images were broadcast by the state-run Russia-1 network as an exclusive on Wednesday, according to NBC, as the network’s “60 Minutes” show mocked Prigozhin’s property while host Yevgeny Popov—who also suggested the Russian government was still investigating Wagner’s uprising—labeled Prigozhin a “traitor.”
Russian journalist Eduard Petrov was also critical of Prigozhin on the show, labeling Prigozhin a “fighter for truth with two criminal records” while criticizing Prigozhin’s wealth: “A fighter for justice had 600 million rubles.”
Dmitry Kiselyov, the host of another state-run political talk show, accused Wagner and Prigozhin’s catering company on Sunday of receiving state funding while suggesting Wagner’s victory in Bakhmut—seen as a key city in Ukraine—was not important.
Images of Prigozhin wearing the wigs from his home were leaked by Russia’s security services on social media earlier this week, including photos of Prigozhin wearing fake beards.
Mikhail Leontiev, a spokesperson for the St. Petersburg-based oil firm Rosneft, was also critical of Prigozhin while comparing him to Hitler, according to the Post.
As Russian media worked to discredit Prigozhin, the Russian government launched a public relations campaign to praise Putin, according to the CBC, including a video released on Tuesday of Putin hugging an 8-year-old girl with a bouquet of flowers, which was then repeatedly played on state television,
Maria Lipman, a Russia analyst at George Washington University, told the Post that a smear campaign against Prigozhin was necessary because he “looked fresh, he looked genuine and he looked sincere, and people appreciated this about him. He was somehow a patriot without the lies.”
Leaked U.S. intelligence documents in March suggested that Russia’s defense ministry had planned to launch a public campaign to discredit Prigozhin, who had been critical of the ministry and other Russian military officials during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
10 million. That’s how many rubles—an estimated $110,000—were found by Russian security officials at Prigozhin’s home, according to CNN.
After a year of worsening relations between the Wagner group and Russian officials, Prigozhin ordered his forces last month to march toward Moscow in a “march of justice.” Prigozhin accepted a peace deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Prior to the group’s brief rebellion, Prigozhin had been linked to Putin for over 30 years and was previously known as “Putin’s chef.” Prigozhin—who owns a successful catering business that has contracts with the Kremlin and Russian military—had also been linked to the Wagner group, despite previously denying any connection to the mercenary firm. The group has been involved in several Russian conflicts over the last decade, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russian military efforts in Syria, Libya, Sudan, Mali, Mozambique and the Central African Republic, according to the New York Times.
Wagner’s forces are preparing to move to Belarus as part of a peace deal between the group and Russia, according to Reuters, following speculation of Prigozhin and Wagner’s whereabouts. Lukashenko claimed earlier this week that Prigozhin was “not in the territory of Belarus” while Wagner troops were still stationed in occupied Ukraine, after suggesting the group would move to the country after ending its march on Moscow. Prigozhin instead returned to St. Petersburg to retrieve money and weapons that were seized by Russian security services, according to the Washington Post.
Kremlin Smears Wagner Boss Prigozhin, Hailing Putin As Russia’s Savior (Washington Post)