Vladimir Putin has been “humiliated” and upstaged by one of his closest military allies in a serious blow to his authority as a wartime commander. The Russian President has carefully tried to cultivate his image as a fearsome leader and effective commander of his army. He has been filmed on numerous occasions holding court with his top military brass, as well as attending Russian army exercises.
However, Putin has been conspicuous by his total absence from the frontlines in Ukraine, where he is yet to visit his troops fighting there.
His failure to do so was recently thrown into stark relief by President Zelensky’s decision to visit Bakhmut last week, where fierce fighting has been raging for months.
The Ukrainian leader met soldiers and handed out medals to his troops.
By way of contrast, Russia’s leader was recently filmed rewarding his soldiers at a ceremony in the comfort and safety of a Kremlin palace.
Now it would appear that Putin’s image as a courageous wartime leader has been further undermined by one of his closest military allies.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner private army, recently posted a series of videos of himself in Bakhmut, that were reportedly recorded last week.
Filmed against the backdrop of an artillery unit, he offers to negotiate with President Zelensky on the spot.
Prigozhin said: “Dear Vladimir Aleksandrovich (Zelensky), if you haven’t left Bakhmut, I am prepared to meet up with you.”
Western military observers believe the post has drawn further attention to Putin’s absence from the front lines and damaged his credibility as a wartime leader.
Analysts from the Institute for the Study of War said: “Prigozhin’s appearance on the frontline further weakens Putin’s presentation of himself as a wartime leader, since Putin has not even visited Russian-occupied territories, let alone gone anywhere near the front lines.
“While Prigozhin did not directly criticise Putin for his inability to directly address Zelensky or arrive on the frontlines, his and Zelensky’s visits to the frontlines threaten to make Putin’s posing as a wartime commander in chief humiliating rather than effective.”
Prigozhin has been a staunch supporter of Putin’s war in Ukraine and has been critical of the Ministry of Defence over its handling of the military campaign.
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“But Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) rewards his heroes right in the Kremlin.
“Look at these honest courageous faces, admire the proud posture of the heroes.
“Well, who motivated their soldiers and officials to continue the battle better?
“For me, the answer is obvious.”