Russia's military command has come in for sharp criticism over the stalled offensive in Ukraine.
Two voices have been especially vocal – Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group. This is why they matter.
The two men do not formally head any of Russia's military or security agencies, and yet they have somehow been allowed to criticise army commanders in unison and praise each other's views too.
Russia's war in Ukraine has ruined its army's image of an efficient and well-run body – from its failure to live up to state TV's promise of Kyiv being captured in three days to its retreat from large swathes of Ukrainian territory. A newly appointed chief of Russian forces in Ukraine, Gen Sergey Surovikin, can so far only claim success in blowing up Ukrainian power stations.
But the mere fact that these two men have not been silenced for what would otherwise be seen as an unheard of display of disloyalty suggests Vladimir Putin is taking their opinions into account.
The fate of Col Gen Alexander Lapin is a case in point. One of the top Russian commanders in Ukraine, he was fired late in October, according to widespread reports.
Ramzan Kadyrov had described him only two days earlier as "talentless", blaming him for recent defeats, including the recapture by Ukrainian forces of the eastern town of Lyman in early October. The Chechen leader said on social media that Gen Lapin should be stripped of his rank and "sent to the frontline as a private".
"He needs to be made to wash off his shame with blood," he ranted.
Yevgeny Prigozhin joined in the criticism. He has travelled around Russia's prison system, enlisting convicts to fight in Ukraine. That kind of clout would not be possible without permission from the highest level. He has even gone so far as to praise Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky as a "solid, confident, pragmatic and likeable guy".
Yevgeny Prigozhin first came to prominence with the nickname "Putin's chef", because he supplied food and drink for official events in the Kremlin.
A businessman from Russia's second-largest city, St Petersburg, it is rumoured he knew Vladimir Putin back in the 1990s when the future president worked in the mayor's office and frequented his restaurant, popular among local officials.
By the 2010s, several journalistic investigations had linked him to a so-called "troll factory" in St Petersburg – a disinformation unit whose reported role was to generate content to discredit Russian political opposition online and show the Kremlin in a positive light.
In 2016, according to an investigation later carried out by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the troll factory was part of Russia's attempt to interfere in the US presidential elections. Mr Prigozhin denied links to the troll factory, but on Monday he revealed: "We have interfered [in US elections], we are interfering, and we will continue to interfere. Carefully, accurately, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do."
For many years he also denied links to a mercenary-recruiting company called Wagner Group. Wagner first emerged in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and its fighters later surfaced in Syria and many African countries.
Recently he admitted being behind Wagner, which has proved to be one of the more effective Russian units in the war in Ukraine.
He has also been locked for years in a public feud with St Petersburg governor Alexander Beglov, going so far as to accuse him of "helping the Ukrainian army".
Few Putin allies are as fiercely loyal as Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, whom the Russian leader picked to rule the autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region in 2007.
In the 1990s Chechnya unsuccessfully fought for independence. Under Mr Kadyrov's rule all attempts at Chechen independence ceased, while human rights deteriorated and his private "Kadyrovtsy" militia were accused of widespread abuses.
He was a vocal supporter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the start, sending in Kadyrovtsy military units and claimed they were among the best-trained, most brave and ruthless troops in Russia's occupying force.
Ruthless they may be, but his men have also been branded "TikTok troops" by some commentators, more interested in posting videos of their exploits on social media than actually fighting.
Human rights activists say a substantial proportion of Chechen soldiers were recruited against their will, after their families were threatened with extortion or physical violence.
In an indication that his loyalty is appreciated by the Kremlin, the Chechen leader has been promoted from brigadier general to colonel general.
Never previously considered allies, Mr Kadyrov and Mr Prigozhin have recently sounded increasingly in tune.
The Chechen leader has labelled the St Petersburg businessman "a warrior from birth" and his Wagner mercenaries "fearless patriots of Russia". He has returned the compliment: "Ramzan, you are on fire!" he said in one of his social media posts.
Both men criticise the military establishment, represented by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and his deputy and chief of the general staff, Gen Valery Gerasimov. Amid an atmosphere of naming and shaming those responsible for failures in Ukraine, this could be their chance to gain further influence at the top.
Commentators believe that separately neither the Chechen leader nor the Wagner chief carry enough weight. They are very unpopular with official political elites and are seen as outsiders. But if they joined forces, they could challenge figures in President Putin's inner circle, as cracks surface.
Russian political analyst Abbas Galiamov says the way Mr Kadyrov and Mr Prigozhin behave is highly unusual for a country at war: "It appears that the vertical system of federal authority that President Putin instituted is not working in one place where it is needed most – in the army."
He describes an atmosphere of "anarchy", in which commanders of different military units argue with each other instead of fighting as a team.
Experts from the American Institute for the Study of War believe there are two broad factions in President Putin's close environment. Those in favour of stopping the war to salvage assets frozen by Western sanctions – and those in favour of continuing it.
These two men want the war to go on. That may be the message Russia's leader is most keen to hear and he may choose to keep them closer.
Additional reporting by Andrei Zakharov and Ilya Barabanov.
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