Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief financier of the mercenary Wagner Group, is becoming “increasingly bold” in his criticism of the Russian military, according to the latest report from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

In the ISW assessment posted Wednesday, the think tank said Prigozhin has heightened his critque of new Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) guidelines for troops along the front lines in the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine. The new policy includes restricted use of personal electronic devices and stricter grooming standards for male soldiers.

Prigozhin reportedly has defended soldiers on the front lines who do not follow the new rules on grooming, saying that “beards are customary for many Muslim and Orthodox Christian fighters,” reported the ISW. The Russian businessman also claimed that the use of personal electronic devices was necessary for “modern warfare.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin Increases Attacks on Russian Military
Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian businessman and chief financier of the Wagner Group, attends a meeting with foreign investors on June 16, 2016, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Prigozhin has ramped up his criticism of the Russian Ministry of Defense, reported the Institute for the Study of War.
Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

“Prigozhin’s comments reflect a cowboy approach to war that is unsuited to the development and maintenance of an effective large-scale and disciplined modern military,” ISW reported.

Prigozhin has long been a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the private mercenaries of Prigozhin’s Wagner Group have played a crucial role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, Prigozhin has recently been hypercritical of the MoD, and just this past week clashed with Putin over which militia group was to credit in the capture of Soledar, a salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine.

The ISW reported that one of Prigozhin’s “boldest attacks” as of late was the claim that some Russian officials are against the Kremlin’s ongoing policy debate about banning the use of YouTube in Russia. According to the assessment Wednesday, Priogzhin claims that Russian officials oppose banning the social platform “because it would undermine their effort to have the United States and Russia reestablish relations after Russia loses the war in Ukraine.”

Prigozhin and other prominent critical voices of Putin, including Russian military blogger Igor Girkin, have also been “carving out a new space” to criticize the Kremlin in Russia’s information space, wrote the ISW. As the think tank notes, Putin has yet to censor some of his loudest online critics.

Despite Russia’s continued setbacks in its Ukraine invasion, which will reach its one-year mark in late February, Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu announced on Tuesday that Russia has a three-year plan to increase its armed forces to 1.5 million military personnel.

As Newsweek has previously reported, Russia’s military currently sits at 1.35 million, and it’s unlikely that the expansion plan would make a major impact on the war in the next several months, according to the ISW. However, the institute said the planned increase in troops is likely a sign that Russia intends to “conduct large-scale conventional warfighting” beyond Ukraine.

Last week, Ukrainian officials estimated that Russia’s death toll since the invasion was at 112,470 troops, although Newsweek estimated the number to be lower.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Chatham House for comment.

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