by Pjotr Sauer and Andrew Roth in Moscow
Friends, rivals and enemies took their seats in the Grand Kremlin Palace as Vladimir Putin gathered the country’s elite to formalise Russia’s illegal annexation of four occupied regions in Ukraine.
The ceremony was meant to portray strength and unity, but within 24 hours had been overshadowed by Russia’s failures on the battlefield. These losses, which continued into this week on the southern and eastern fronts in Ukraine, have led to a major, unprecedented rupture within the ruling class as the Kremlin seeks scapegoats for a series of military embarrassments.
The following account is based on 15 interviews with former government and defence officials, members of the military, political observers, journalists, opposition members, and an inmate at a prison where Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin recruited soldiers to join his mercenary group in Ukraine…