Putin’s former ‘puppet master’ calls for an end to mercenary groups like Wagner

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin’s former chief strategist on Monday called for an end to mercenary groups in Russia after a mutiny by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner militia, warning they were interfering with the chain of command.

Vladislav Surkov, once known as the Kremlin’s “puppet master” to friends and foes alike, said “private military companies” were an idea imported from the United States, created to engage in proxy wars.

“How can a military unit be private in our view? This is completely incompatible with Russian political, managerial and military culture,” said Surkov, who left the Kremlin in 2020, in an interview published by his associate Alexei Chesnakov. .

Such groups, Surkov said, risked turning Russia into “some sort of Eurasian tribal zone” while dividing command of the armed forces as Russia fought what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” (SVO) in Ukraine.

“Why do we need them today when we are openly participating in the battle for Ukraine? This is not a proxy war, this is the SVO,” Surkov said.

“The army must be strengthened not only with weapons, but also with unity of command.”

As the first deputy head of the Kremlin administration from 1999 to 2011, Surkov helped Putin forge his tightly controlled political system. He then worked in the government and later returned to the Kremlin as an adviser to Putin.

He called Prigozhin an “oligarch”, detailing the mercenary’s criminal past in St Petersburg.

In 1981, aged 20, Prigozhin was sentenced to 13 years in prison for robbery and assault, including choking a woman unconscious, according to court documents from the time.

“That’s all you need to know about Prigozhin,” Surkov said.

Prigozhin said on Monday that a one-day mutiny by his Wagner force was intended not to overthrow the Russian government but to register a protest against what he said was the ineffective conduct of the war in Ukraine.

Last month, Prigozhin said his nickname “Putin’s chef” was silly because he couldn’t cook, joking that “Putin’s butcher” might be more appropriate.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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