The Kremlin does not care about the Wagnerians: in recent weeks they have been deprived of ammunition, the recruitment of prisoners to the group has been suspended, and the mercenaries are bleeding out at Bakhmut. This is how Putin pursues his hidden goal – or at least tries to, because internal infighting and power struggles have gone too far before.
The Wagnerians have been fighting in Ukraine since the first day of the war. And the longer the conflict lasts, the more the role of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s company and his influence in the Kremlin grow. “Putin’s cook” felt confident enough to throw accusations against the head of the Ministry of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, and the entire General Staff in the state media. However, Prigozhin builds his position on the blood of mercenaries, and the struggle for power and influence may end tragically for him.
For years, the businessman did not admit to having links with the Wagner group.
This changed only after the first successes in the war with Ukraine – then he confirmed that in 2014 he founded the company together with the former GRU intelligence lieutenant colonel Dmitry Utkin, nicknamed “Wagner”.
Why did Putin’s close associate not brag about his enterprise earlier? Probably due to the lack of much success. The roots of the group go back to the “Slavic Corps” – a Russian private mercenary unit that was created in 2013 when Russia got involved in the civil war in Syria. The level of military training was so low at that time that in a clash with the Islamic State they were crushed and forced to retreat to Russia.
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It was then that Prigozhin invested in them. From the beginning, they used Utkin’s connections, which he had developed over the years of working for the intelligence service. That is why the first contracts were concluded with African states, where the USSR had been building its influence for decades. Soon, the mercenaries of the Wagner group also found employment with warlords in Sudan, the Central African Republic and Mozambique.
They also played a minor role in the seizure of Crimea and the unleashing of the war in Donbas. As the famous “green men” they conducted sabotage operations and tried to destabilize the situation in the region, over time they also won more and more contracts. However, it was only Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that allowed the company to launch into wide waters.
Mercenaries at war
The Wagnerians in Ukraine found themselves even before the beginning of the offensive. The sabotage groups were tasked with capturing and liquidating the most important Ukrainian politicians, including Volodymyr Zelensky. During that period, the Ukrainians thwarted at least four assassination attempts on the president. In total, around 300 mercenaries operated near Kiev on February 24.
When the capture of the city failed, units composed of former Special Forces soldiers were transferred to the front near Popasna, where they took the brunt of the fighting. After three months, they captured the city and immediately began a series of murders and kidnappings. Several thousand inhabitants, including many children, were deported to Russia. When they got to Russia, nothing was heard of them.
When the Ukrainians pushed the Russians out of the Kharkiv region and then forced them to withdraw from the west bank of the Dnieper, it turned out that regular Russian troops were exhausted. So the mobilization was announced. However, the “mobiles” also failed at the front – and with the successive defeats of the army, the Wagnerians became an increasingly important force.
Initially, the Wagnerian troops numbered about 5,000. people.
In order to quickly increase the number of people, about 40,000 people were recruited to the group. prisoners from penal colonies.
Such degenerates as the so-called “Angar maniac” Mikhail Popkov, sentenced to double life imprisonment for the murder of 83 women, and Andrei Berezhnyk, a mafioso nicknamed “The Avenger”, who was sentenced to 25 years for the murder and attempted murder of 10 other people, went to the front. The latter died near Bakhmut in December 2022.
Prigozhin guaranteed recruited criminals 100,000. rubles a month, payment of 80 thousand. dollars to the family in the event of their death, and if they survive the six-month contract – a pardon. On the other hand, “Putin’s cook” threatened that deserters, drug addicts and alcoholics would be put to death.
He wasn’t joking. In mid-February, the Wagnerians captured Dmitry Yakushenko, who deserted and crossed over to the Ukrainian side. He was sentenced to death – his head was crushed with a sledgehammer – and the execution was videotaped and posted online.
Bloodbath at Bakhmut
The Wagnerians became louder during the battles for Bachmut and Sołedar.
The group does not resort to sophisticated tactics.
The commanders send eight-to-twelve-man assault groups directly to the Ukrainian positions. Their attack is preceded by artillery fire, and they cut their way with RPG-7 grenade launchers. When that fails, the next group moves on. Then another and another –
and so on until people run out
or the exhausted Ukrainians decide to retreat.
The capture of Soledar and the entrance to Bakhmut caused Prigozhin to grow feathers. In the state media, he complained that the army did not supply his troops with ammunition, especially artillery. He also loudly said that the head of the Russian Defense Ministry, Siegei Shoigu, was responsible for the huge losses of the Wagner fighters, sabotaging the military operations. In support of his words, “Putin’s cook” published drastic photos on the Internet, which showed the bodies of fallen mercenaries.
– The Wagner Group has a slightly different specificity than the mercenary formations used, for example, by the US in Iraq. The Americans were responsible for securing VIPs, facilities and convoys – says Jakub Link-Lenczowski, publisher of the MILMAG Military Magazine.
– On the other hand, Wagner’s group was responsible for a significant section of the front, conducting independent operations, such as recently at Bakhmut. It makes that
Russian mercenaries are not subcontractors of the army, but rather a competitor to it.
All this causes friction and conflict between regular forces and mercenaries. Especially when the latter promoted themselves at the expense of soldiers – adds the expert.
This may result in a conflict that is growing between Prigozhin and Shoigu. All indicates that
the head of the defense ministry felt threatened when the Wagnerians began to achieve successes,
and Prigozhin’s position in Putin’s circle was growing. In turn, the businessman stopped hiding his political ambitions and announced that after winning the war, he intended to run for the office of president of Ukraine.
In addition, Prigozhin once again struck directly at the military tops. Recording propaganda materials in Sołedar, he declared that his company is probably “the most experienced army in the world today”.
There are also voices that the entrepreneur is trying to replace Putin in the political arena. – Prigozhin is an expert in running propaganda channels. Thanks to this, he managed to build a group of very loyal supporters who have no problem calling on Putin to step down.
Prigozhin is doing this to seize power and I think he will eventually challenge Putin
– evaluates Olga Lautman, an employee of the Center for European Policy Analysis and an expert on Russian affairs.
They’re bleeding out the Wagnerians. There is no case here
It was precisely these ambitions that Shoigu, in consultation with General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff and at the same time the commander of the operation against Ukraine,
began sabotaging the activities of the Wagnerians.
The group is almost entirely dependent on the logistics of the Armed Forces – when the army stopped delivering ammunition and provisions, the Wagnerians got into serious trouble.
– The involvement of the Wagner group depends on how efficiently they are able to rotate mercenaries, including replacing the wounded, and whether they will be able to replenish ammunition and supplies – says Link-Lenczowski.
– This, of course, moved from the operational level to the political level. In recent months, the General Staff felt depreciated by the successes of Prigozhin’s formation. However, recently it seems that
it’s getting harder and harder for mercenaries to maintain their “elite” level while mass recruiting.
At the same time, if the report from Moscow is to be believed, the Wagner group has been removed from the command structures of the army and loses access to the Kremlin – adds the expert.
Both Putin and Shoigu are in a predicament: they cannot risk a direct confrontation with Prigozhin because they simply need his military support.
Bleeding the Wagnerians and sabotaging their actions at Bakhmut, however, restore the balance of power
and at least for now thwart the plans of the ambitious “cook”.
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For Wirtualna Polska, Sławek Zagórski
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