Espreso. Global

Wagner forces are sacrificed as "live meat" after Prigozhin loses "Putin's trust" 

16 March, 2023 Thursday

After Prigozhin's failure to capture the Bakhmut area, Putin no longer likes him, Ukrainian military expert says

When Yevgeny Prigozhin lost the confidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the notorious Wagner Group has found itself not only in the sights of the Ukrainian army but also of the Russian Ministry of Defense. 

Following months of hard combat, Prigozhin, a former close confidant of Vladimir Putin, is fighting for the survival of his mercenary forces in eastern Ukraine, Wagner specialist Oleksander Kovalenko told Fox News Digital.

"Yevgeny Prigozhin lost Putin's trust after the struggle for Soledar. This is because Wagner [private military company], suffered terrible losses in order to seize the town,” Kovalenko said.

“In Soledar, Wagner PMC lost their main support system, and the operation itself received a ton of internal criticism”, he added. 

Once the defense ministry in January declared victory over the salt mining town, roughly 10 miles north of Bakhmut, the battle for Soledar exposed the first substantial divisions between the mercenary force and the Russian military that had been rumored. 

In response to this, Prigozhin claimed that the defense ministry was aiming to usurp the group's fame. 

A rare statement from the ministry later acknowledged that it was a joint operation, but the public argument exposed the true conflicts inside Putin's armed forces.

The fact that Wagner forces had been engaged in a conflict for the Donbas region since the summer did not confer any advantages on Prigozhin, according to Kovalenko, a military supervisor of the Information Resistance organization in Ukraine, which started battling propaganda after Russia's invasion in 2014. 

“Since the summer of 2022, Prigozhin has had a complete monopoly on the conduct of hostilities in the Bakhmut region," the expert said.

Kovalenko claimed that due to Prigozhin's mistakes, his mercenaries are now being deployed as "human shields" in the first line of defense for Russian armed forces, in addition to losing access to weapons and recruiting authorizations by the defense ministry. 

According to the Wagner specialist, Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Minister of Defense, and Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, utilized Wagner's failures in taking the Bakhmut sector to persuade Putin to send conventional military forces.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported on Sunday that Russia's defense ministry is now trying 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," echoing Kovalenko's description of the shifting battlefield dynamics in the Bakhmut sector. 

The troops of mercenaries are dwindling swiftly, according to Kovalenko, because Prigozhin can no longer recruit prisoners from jails, therefore he cannot quickly make up for the losses of his units.

Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenaries, has grown increasingly irate and vocal about his complaints, even accusing Shoigu and Gerasimov of "treason" last month for not arming his men. 

It's hard to determine whether the Wagner PMC was intentionally destroyed, but the reality is that the Russian military command treats the Wagner forces like live meat, according to Kovalenko. 

"Prigozhin can't do anything right now. He has no way to resist," he continued.

It is unknown how this would go or what it may mean for Prigozhin, but the ISW reports that Prigozhin has threatened to remove his Wagner men from Bakhmut. 

The Russian defense ministry appears to be prioritizing removing Wagner forces from the Bakhmut battlefield, according to the Washington-based think tank, which is "certainly holding down the rate of advance in the area." 

According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, eliminating Wagner mercenary soldiers would also result in even higher mortality rates for Russian military forces, which have already suffered major losses in the Bakhmut sector, including up to 1,000 fatalities in the past week alone.

The fact Russia sends disproportionate numbers of troops and weapons in the aread for little strategic gains, suggests that Moscow views the battle for Bakhmut as mostly symbolic. 

Kovalenko, though, states that Russia can still afford to withdraw Wagner forces from the battlefields. 

"There are other private military firms operating in Russia besides Wagner. Now Patriot PMC and Redut PMC, which are under the direction of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, are gaining popularity," he said.

Kovalenko added that Prigozhin's monopoly has previously prevented Russian officials from expanding Moscow's employment of mercenary fighters by diversifying the organizations in countries like Syria. 

He continued by saying that Russia's use of forced conscription will also allow it to continue sending men to the front lines in Ukraine. 

"Now the Russian military has the opportunity to use their PMCs and advertise them to Putin," he concluded.

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