Meduza, a leading Russian opposition news site, claims the Russian military has broken down the distinction between mercenaries and the regular army in an attempt to recuperate its losses amid the war in Ukraine.
The report makes a number of claims regarding the Russian military’s condition in Ukraine, including detailing a far larger role of mercenaries than previously thought. It claims the Russian Ministry of Defense has both relied on Russia’s elite mercenary group, Wagner, as its “main strike force” and also as a major recruiting tool since before fighting began in February.
Wagner is a private military company shrouded in mystery, though it is believed to have deep ties to the Kremlin and Russian military, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It is thought to be controlled and financed by Evgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch within President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. The group was first seen in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and has since gone on to fight in Syria, Libya, and across Africa. Many analysts view it as a proxy of the Russian state.
Meduza claimed Wagner only appeared in this year’s Ukraine campaign in late March, taking an increasingly leading role in the war. “The Russian army and other mercenary groups performed so poorly on the battlefield, however, that Moscow eventually called on Wagner’s regulars,” the publication wrote. The first group of mercenaries deployed in February, coming from the company “Redoubt,” were apparently mostly wiped out.
Every source that spoke with Meduza claimed that recruiting for Russia’s mercenary groups has served as a “secret mobilization,” bringing in a continuous stream of troops without upsetting the domestic situation. In return, “the process has completely erased the boundary between mercenary groups, regular troops, and ‘volunteers.'”
Despite a fear of damaging its prestige through the “secret mobilization,” Wagner has proven effective in combat, apparently being “rented out” to front-line units. Many of Wagner’s “core group,” from eastern Ukrainian towns currently being fought over, joined the war for ideological reasons, with one insider telling Meduza that “they came to crush the Ukes with the idea of settling the score for their own [who were killed in 2014 and 2015].”
The report also details problems within Wagner. One insider claimed that a squad leader was “fragged,” the act of intentionally killing or wounding a superior officer, after the squad leader ordered his troops into battle without air or artillery support, while another complained of a lack of ammunition.
Prigozhin denies the contents of the report and has filed for Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee to pursue felony charges against Meduza for spreading “false information” about the Russian army and treason, according to Meduza.