Inside the Wagner Group’s armed uprising

Inside the Wagner Group’s armed uprising

Joshua Yaffa writes:

On May 20th, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, stood in the center of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, and recorded a video. The city once housed seventy thousand people but was now, after months of relentless shelling, nearly abandoned. Whole blocks were in ruins, charred skeletons of concrete and steel. Smoke hung over the smoldering remains like an early-morning fog. Prigozhin wore combat fatigues and waved a Russian flag. “Today, at twelve noon, Bakhmut was completely taken,” he declared. Armed fighters stood behind him, holding banners with the Wagner motto: “Blood, honor, homeland, courage.”

More than anyone else in Russia, Prigozhin had used the war in Ukraine to raise his own profile. In the wake of the invasion, he transformed Wagner from a niche mercenary outfit of former professional soldiers to the country’s most prominent fighting force, a private army manned by tens of thousands of storm troopers, most of them recruited from Russian prisons. Prigozhin projected an image of himself as ruthless, efficient, practical, and uncompromising. He spoke in rough, often obscene language, and came to embody the so-called “party of war,” those inside Russia who thought that their country had been too measured in what was officially called the “special military operation.” “Stop pulling punches, bring back all our kids from abroad, and work our asses off,” Prigozhin said, the month that Bakhmut fell. “Then we’ll see some results.”

The aura of victory in Bakhmut enhanced Prigozhin’s popularity. He had an almost sixty-per-cent approval rating in a June poll conducted by the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent polling agency; nineteen per cent of those surveyed said they were ready to vote for him for President. His new status seemed to come with a special license to criticize top officials in Moscow. Prigozhin had accused his rivals in the Russian military, Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister, and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of general staff, of withholding artillery ammunition from Wagner. “That’s direct obstruction, plain and simple,” Prigozhin said. “It can be equated with high treason.” In the battle for Bakhmut, he said, “five times more guys died than should have” because of the officials’ indecisive leadership. [Continue reading…]

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