The head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner has revealed his plans for the future, saying he wants to “reboot” his private military group.
In an interview published over the weekend, Yevgeny Prigozhin said: “After the capture of Artyomovsk [Bakhmut], we will begin to reboot. In particular, we will start recruiting new people from the regions.
“The Wagner private military group must turn from just a private – the best – army in the world, which is capable of defending the state, into an army with an ideology.”
Incredibly, given that many Wagner fighters have been recruited directly from jails with convicts promised amnesty from the sentences if they survive fighting for Wagner, the “ideology” mentioned by Prigozhin is “the struggle for justice.”
How does he intend to do that?
The first step is a new recruitment drive, not from prisons but from a chain of new recruitment centers around Russia.
“Recruitment centers for PMC Wagner have opened in 42 Russian cities,” Prigozhin said in a statement on Friday.
Fighters will be recruited in sports centers and martial arts clubs, according to a list released by Prigozhin.
“Despite the colossal resistance of the Ukrainian armed forces, we will move forward,” he said.
It sounds like there are some exciting times ahead for Wagner?
Not so fast. While Wagner has been spearheading offensives against cities in eastern Ukraine including Bakhmut, they’ve suffered incredible losses and Prigozhin himself has been locked in a messy and very public power struggle with the Kremlin.
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Tensions between Prigozhin and the defense ministry have been simmering for months. Prigozhin has several times claimed battlefield victories ahead of Russia’s army, criticized Russia’s top brass and accused the military of not sharing ammunition with his forces.
In its latest report, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) says that Russian President Putin and the Ministry of Defense is “likely seizing the opportunity to deliberately expend both elite and convict Wagner forces in Bakhmut in an effort to weaken Prigozhin and derail his ambitions for greater influence in the Kremlin.”
It adds: “Putin will likely use Wagner’s high casualties, reports about poor morale, and war crimes to deflect from likely equal or possibly worse problems within the Russian Armed Forces.
“Kremlin-affiliated milbloggers have ambushed Prigozhin with interviews that exposed numerous Wagner controversies regarding the ineffectiveness and mistreatment of the Wagner convict force – likely in an effort to set conditions in the Russian information space to discredit Wagner.”
In a video released on Saturday, Prigozhin said he was ready to ask Russia’s top commanders for forgiveness but at the same time appeared to mock Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
He said they were “outstanding military commanders” and added that Russia’s greatest military leaders, including Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Suvorov “could have learned” from them.
“I absolutely – totally – support all their initiatives,” Prigozhin added.
What’s the bigger picture?
While Prigozhin and the Kremlin continue their public spat, the fight for Bakhmut rages on.
Earlier this week Wagner said its fighters had captured the eastern part of the city. Some military experts have questioned the sense of the continued fight for the ravaged town, but Ukrainian officials say that the fall of Bakhmut could lead to further Russian advances in the east.
The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrsky, said on Saturday the fight for Bakhmut helps win time in preparation for a future counteroffensive.
“The real heroes now are the defenders who are holding the eastern front on their shoulders, and inflicting the heaviest possible losses sparing neither themselves nor the enemy,” Syrsky was quoted as saying in a statement.
“It is necessary to buy time to build reserves and launch a counteroffensive, which is not far off.” British military intelligence said on Saturday that the Bakhmutka River in the center of Bakhmut now marked the front line.
“Ukrainian forces hold the west of the town and have demolished key bridges over the river, which runs... north-south through a strip of open ground 200 meters to 800 meters wide,” the British Defence Ministry said in an update.
“This area has become a killing zone, likely making it highly challenging for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal assault westwards.”
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