They fight for us
In modern warfare the purpose of the various private military companies is usually to perform tasks that can take the burden off the shoulders of a state’s regular forces in areas that do not directly fall into the category of combat actions. This includes, for example, personal and property protection, trainingbut either garbage collectionor the construction of military camps too.
Compared to the above, the Wagner group is much more similar to the mercenary armies of the late Middle Ages and early modern times. Wagner has its own armored vehicles, tanks, aircraft, and perhaps the world’s largest workforce.
While modern private military companies work more or less on a market basis, until in practice, Wagner is an entity operating in parallel with the Russian regular forces, but loyal only to Moscowwhose task is primarily to enforce Moscow’s will in conflict zones such as Africa, and all this without being clearly connected to the Russian government from an international legal point of view.
In summary, Wagner’s task is quite simple: to wage war on behalf of Russia without Moscow having to command its own troops abroad.
When they hit back…
This task changed dramatically last February, when Wagner’s mercenaries appeared at the forefront of the Russian attack on Ukraine, primarily around the Donbass. THE During the conflict, one of the most serious shortcomings of the PMCs came to light: there is no doubt that people with a real military background and properly equipped will perform better on the battlefield than poorly equipped and usually completely untrained Arab or African militias, In Ukraine, however, Wagner found himself facing a regular army.
In this situation, it became clear that in practice, the dreaded mercenary team performed no better than other Russian military formationsmoreover, a widespread view is that the mercenaries recruited from the prison performed poorly during the battles in the Donbass, similar to the enlisted Russian soldiers.
Regardless of the alleged poor performance, one thing is undeniable: in the last few months of the war, Wagner was the only military unit that actively tried to break through the Ukrainian defenses, primarily at the city of Bahmut, which is often compared to Stalingrad.
In Russia – as in essentially all military superpowers – the armed forces have a high prestige, moreover, in the more backward regions, military service is often the only way out.
On the other hand, Wagner is not officially part of the Russian armed forces, it operates in parallel with it, and in theory they are not accountable to any Russian high-ranking officer.
And this brings us to one of the most important sources of conflict between Wagner and the Russian military leadership: while in Ukraine military formations with a long history suffer brutal losses, such as the 1st Guards Tank Corps operating in the north, while those without such traditions Not only can Wagner bypass the military apparatus, but for a long time it seemed that Putin could be offered the first meaningful victory in a long time by capturing Bahmut.
Prigozhin said that in 2024 he decided to go to the presidential elections in Ukraine. #Wagner
— maike (@maike809588) March 15, 2023
The conflict between the Russian military and the mercenaries has been perceptible even at the lowest levels for months: previously videos appeared of mercenaries fighting with soldiers or even FSB people, the Russian conscripts and they uploaded videos several times, in which JYevgeny Prigozhin was asked to “take over” them from the Russian army, where they have to endure unbearable conditions.
Prigozhin is one of the most interesting figures in Russian political-military life.
Prigozhin, who was originally responsible for the Kremlin’s catering, is often brutally honest compared to Russian generals and politicians, and bravely criticizes the Russian military leadership. .
Prigozhin holding dog tags of the killed Wagner fighters. He is proposing that Russian businessmen should pick a dog tag at random and then take care of the family of the dead fighter. #Russia
— Natalka (@NatalkaKyiv) March 16, 2023
The Wagner leader also successfully took on a kind of Napoleonic character: while the Russian military leadership usually stays at a safe distance from the front, until Prigogsin regularly checks in just a few kilometers from the scene of the fightingl, all this in a bulletproof vest and helmet, with a simple AKSZ-74U assault rifle in his hand. It is well known that Putin’s chef has a huge fortune, yet he dresses like a simple soldier, he is often seen talking to his men, like it is likely that he is a more popular military leader than most professional Russian military officers.
Discharged ship’s cannon
Prigozhin shows the exact opposite of the communication of the Russian propaganda machine: describes the Ukrainian forces as a competent adversary, comments on the difficulties of the “special military operation”, and also appears to he shows virtually no respect for the Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu. According to some rumors, the unmanageability of the Wagner leader was one of the main reasons why the Kremlin appointed Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov the direct commander of the fighting in Ukraine.
Gerasimov is the most respected senior officer in the Russian armed forces, who happens to be on famously bad terms with Prigozhin, who comes from outside the force system.
Although the version of political competition common in the West is essentially unknown in Russia, a fierce battle for the favors of the current leader, i.e. President Vladimir Putin, is taking place within the walls of the Kremlin. In the early stages of the war, Prigozhin turned from an oligarch into a savior of Russian pride, and with this he probably scared many members of the political and military elite, since we are talking about an environment where poorly performing, disgraced players often commit suicide by shooting themselves twice in the back or falling out of the windows of various tall buildings.
It is not possible to know for sure whether President Putin himself sees Prigozhin as a threat, since the unexpected death of the Wagner leader would have catastrophic consequences from the point of view of the “special military operation”, since Moscow would essentially decapitate its most actively fighting formation.
However, it is far from inconceivable that the supply problems of the Wagner group do not simply stem from the overload of the Russian supply system: by mindlessly diverting the overly popular and famous military formation to the machine gun nests of Bahmut, while reducing supplies and making it impossible to recruit from prisons, the officers of the Russian General Staff can kill two birds with one stone:
they can regulate the military formation that has grown too large, and they can occupy Bahmut, which has been holding out for months, without deploying Russian forces.
Prigozhin directly accuses the Russian MoD of purposefully cutting ammo supplies in order to prevent Wagner from taking Bakhut under any circumstances, because pic.twitter.com/c0wI95F2xM
— Dmitri (@wartranslated) March 15, 2023
The fact that different military formations compete with each other is by no means a unique phenomenon: Already in the Second World War, Stalin liked to bully his generals by saying that “competitors” performed better, and many sources even state that the United States was unable to settle the Iraqi political conditions after the occupation of the country because the Pentagon and the White House almost sabotaged each other’s work and tried to enforce their own ideas.
For now, it cannot be said with full confidence that the Wagner Group has outgrown its role. The fate of the mercenaries will probably only be revealed after the fall of Bahmut:
if the Russian military command sends Prigozhin’s men into new operations with high casualties immediately after the capture of the city, it can essentially be stated that the bleeding of Wagner is Moscow’s goal.
It is less likely that after the occupation of the Donbas settlement, the General Staff will allow Prigozhin to fill up the private army to its previous number of tens of thousands. Wagner acts as a kind of opposition to the regular forces, and a force so divided simply cannot function effectively.
Cover photo: Russian soldiers prepare for the 2014 Victory Day parade. The cover image is an illustration, source: Vyacheslav Argenberg via Wikimedia Commons