Vladimir Putin is facing a major revolt from his key Chechen and Wagner allies, after a row over facial hair escalated into open warfare. The Kremlin recently appointed the Russian Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, as the overall commander of Moscow’s forces in Ukraine. The General replaced Sergey Surovikin, who had been in the post for just a mere three months.
Gerasimov, who received minor injuries when visiting a Russian military command post in Izyum last May, has wasted no time in trying to impose a new code of discipline on his troops.
In particular, the new commander appears determined to improve the appearance of his men.
Subsequently, he has ordered Russian soldiers to cut their hair and shave their beards.
However, the order has gone down like a led balloon with some sections of the military and provoked a furious backlash among key figures.
Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s leader who has sent many of his militia to fight in Ukraine, called the decision a deliberate “provocation” and said it was a distraction from the real business of fighting.
The Chechen warlord wrote on his Telegram channel: “Let’s just drop our guns and go and shave.
Gerasimov has ordered Russian soldiers to shave and smarten up (Image: Telegram)
“What kind of nonsense is this?”
General Gerasimov’s appointment as the new head of the Russian army has been met with widespread scepticism in his native country.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence said in its Monday bulletin that the General’s “prioritisation of largely minor regulations is likely to confirm the fears of his many sceptics in Russia“.
Besides the order to shave, Gerasimov has ordered soldiers to stop wearing “non-regulation uniform, travelling in civilian vehicles and using mobile phones”.
The MoD noted that such measures were only likely to heighten the feeling among the Kremlin’s pro-war camp that the General and the Defence Secretary Sergey Shoigu are “out of touch and focused on presentation over substance”.
Some analysts believe the order to smarten up could be yet another ploy by the Kremlin’s military establishment to undermine the influence of the Wagner Group.
They have been at the centre of much of the heavy fighting in the Donbas, particularly around Bakhmut.
Many of the ex-convicts are unshaven and dressed in a variety of mismatched army fatigues.
There’s been much speculation about an intense power struggle going on between Prigozhin and his Ministry of Defence counterparts, who are desperate to curtail his influence and put him in his place.
Prigozhin weighed into the argument over beards with his trademark sarcasm.
The former convict urged the Chechen warlord to double the length of his beard, adding his men were too busy fighting to stop and shave.
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He added: “War is the time of the active and courageous, and not of the clean-shaven.”
A politician from Saint Peterburg, Prigozhin’s home city, told the Express that the Wagner boss was desperate to secure an official political position to protect his wealth and prevent his many enemies from getting rid of him.
Dmitry Palyuga, a Yabloko Party councillor from the Smolninskoye municipality, explained: “He needs to secure some position in Putin’s system because right now who is Prigozhin?
“He’s just a businessman and a businessman with his own army. They all exist – Prigozhin and his army – just because Putin needs them – that’s it.”