Just a few days ago, the head of the Wagner group Evgueni Prigojine took to social media and proudly showed himself surrounded by some of his mercenaries in the heart of one of the Soledar salt mines.
A little later, he personally supervised, at least in the networks, the transfer of the remains of their fallen soldiers to the Ukrainian authorities.
Prigozhin in one of the Soledar mines. The largest salt production plant in Europe is located on the territory of the city. Now it belongs to Russia. pic.twitter.com/OrTvSll6B7
– ZOV TV (@ZOV_TV) January 25, 2023
Evgeny Prigozhin is there #Soledarwhich monitors the transfer of corpses of killed Ukrainian soldiers back to Ukrainian-controlled territory.
This war criminal has courage. pic.twitter.com/0o4rXzMKbL
— Julian Roepcke🇺🇦 (@JulianRoepcke) January 22, 2023
The message should be clear, or at least it seemed so. After months of setbacks and defeats, Russia was finally able to achieve victory on the ground, and not thanks to its regular armies, but to its auxiliaries.
However, behind these pictures and this communication there is nothing but a deep crisis. According to some observers or analysts, the Wagner group in Ukraine is even on the verge of collapse, as explained by The Daily Beast.
At the political level, Evgueni Prigojine’s position is extremely precarious. After months of occupying an increasingly prominent place alongside Vladimir Putin, the Russian president apparently wanted to curb his ambitions by replacing the allegedly mercenary-friendly “Armageddon General” Sergei Surovikin with Valéri Guerasimov just three months after his appointment.
“Putin’s decision to focus on and rely on conventional Russian forces marginalizes the Wagner group and the siloviki faction, which nonetheless continues to contribute to the war effort in Ukraine,” analyzed the Institute For The Study of War ( ISW).
And to say the pill had a hard time going is an understatement. Ever since the conquest of Soledar, Prigozhin has been fairly harshly critical of the regular Russian armies. In the post-victory communication (à la Pyrrhus), he accused them in particular of having “stolen the victory” from the Wagner group.
Earlier, General Gerasimov had been faced with a barrage of public abuse, followed by an audio message in which he accused Russian leaders, who sat quietly in the warm coziness of their office, of failing to send material support or military to the Wagner group.
Finally, in a video, Prigoyine tried to explain why his troops had so much trouble capturing Bakhmout, which has been the subject of fighting for months but is still in Ukrainian hands.
Wagner’s Prigozhyn explains why he can’t take Bakhmut – one line of defense every 10 meters, hundreds of lines of defense across the city. The Russians lack armored vehicles and equipment. pic.twitter.com/sTdQt8G5xq
— Dmitry (@war translated) January 3, 2023
The fear of returning
According to ISW, picked up by Business Insider, there is nothing innocent about these reports: Prigozhin is “probably in the process of creating the conditions for accusing the Russian Ministry of Defense of the failure of the Wagner concern Bachmout.”
However, a possible lack of support from the Russian command is probably not the only – or even the most important – factor explaining this current failure. The brutal, bloody, indifferent to human life method of Prigojine is undoubtedly the first responsible.
As we explained recently, the leaders of the Wagner group launched waves upon waves of soldiers who fell on the Ukrainian defenses at Bakhmout and Soledar and died until they had to advance by stepping on the bodies of their comrades. “The Soledar area is covered with the corpses of the invaders,” President Zelensky said gravely during one of his late-night briefings. This is what madness looks like.”
The numbers that are beginning to come out are indeed insane and scary. To feed this unspeakable carnage, Prigoyine has partially emptied Russian prisons with the direct approval of Vladimir Putin. The deal that greatly interested Russia’s greatest serial killer was clear: tens of thousands of criminals were offered to go to Ukraine and fight towards the end of their sentences and their release.
Ex-convict and human shit bug Prigozhin who sued @Bellcat in normal court (and lost) and in Russian kangaroo court (and won) about us and reports that he runs and finances the Wagner PMC, here on a video in which he recruits Russian convicts for his “own private PMC” Wagner . pic.twitter.com/YjKdyLBYSr
—Christo Grozev (@christogrozev) September 14, 2022
Still had to endure the hellish ride reserved for this cannon fodder in Ukraine. According to a Russian NGO interviewed by the Moscow Times, this has not often been the case. Olga Romanova, head of “Russia Behind Bars”, calculates that 50,000 prisoners were freed from their cells, but only “10,000 of them are still fighting at the front because the rest have been killed, surrendered or deserted”.
Some were nonetheless, as promised and no doubt for the sake of communication, relieved of their obligations by Prigojine, who, being a good father, publicly urged them not to rape, commit new crimes, or relapse into drugs after returning to civilian life.
Prigozhyn frees the first convicts from Wagner. He calls ex-prisoners real warriors and gives them instructions on how to behave in society, “don’t rape, don’t take drugs…”. pic.twitter.com/iG3ALiXU2k
— Volodymyr Tretyak 🇺🇦 (@VolodyaTretyak) January 5, 2023
Whether they are officially “liberated” or deserted from the front lines, the return of these thousands of men to Russia is therefore frightening – no doubt rightly so.
So much so that, as The Daily Beast reports in Russian media Baza, Muscovites are being bombarded with a series of mysterious phone calls from suspected members of the security forces. When things look very much like manipulation, they ask them to remain vigilant and beware of these monsters returning from the front lines, some previously convicted of pedophilia for example.