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Russian band Wagner is gaining global notoriety from Africa to Ukraine, but the division is brewing at home

The group of private Wagner mercenaries making headlines across the world proved essential to of Russian President Vladimir Putin war in Ukraine, but its successes also exposed the division in Moscow’s war effort.

White House National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby told reporters on Friday that the United States believes there is growing tension between the Russian Department of Defense and the Wagnerian leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has long had close ties with Putin.

Russia claimed victory in the bitter battle against the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine earlier this month, showing glaring divisions between the Defense Ministry, which awarded its troops victory, and Prigozhin , aligned with Putin, who said the rare achievement was due to his mercenaries.

A man places flowers on the coffin during the funeral of Dmitry Menshikov, a mercenary from the private Russian military company Wagner Group killed during the military conflict in Ukraine, in the Alley of Heroes of a cemetery in Saint Petersburg, Russia , on December 24, 2022.

A man places flowers on the coffin during the funeral of Dmitry Menshikov, a mercenary from the private Russian military company Wagner Group killed during the military conflict in Ukraine, in the Alley of Heroes of a cemetery in Saint Petersburg, Russia , on December 24, 2022.
(REUTERS/Igor Russak)

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The Ministry of Defence, which has long distanced itself from the Wagner group, then issued an unusual statement and says the city has been taken in a “mixed” effort to pinch Soledar from north and south.

The direct assault on the blocks “was accomplished through the courageous and selfless actions of Wagner PMC’s volunteer assault troops,” the ministry added.

“We see indications, including in intelligence, that tensions between Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry are increasing,” Kirby told reporters on Friday. “Wagner is becoming a rival power center for the Russian military and other Russian ministries.”

For years, the Russian government has denied any connection to the private military company (PMC) despite reports ranging from first-hand accounts to UN-level records showing that the shadow force was used to pursue the interests of the Kremlin from the Middle East and Africa to Ukraine. , especially Putin’s interests.

“Wagner PMC was formed as a military branch for hybrid operations outside of Russia under the auspices of the FSB [Federal Security Services]Wagner expert Oleksander Kovalenko told Fox News, referring to the intelligence agency that replaced the infamous KGB.

Kovalenko, a military supervisor with the information resistance group in Ukraine that began countering propaganda after the 2014 Russian invasion, said Russia’s use of private military groups is nothing new.

People in military uniform, claiming to be soldiers of the Russian mercenary group Wagner and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, pose for a photo believed to be in a salt mine in Soledar in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this photo released on January 10, 2023.

People in military uniform, claiming to be soldiers of the Russian mercenary group Wagner and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, pose for a photo believed to be in a salt mine in Soledar in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this photo released on January 10, 2023.
(“Concord” news service/Handout via REUTERS)

“It all started in the days of the USSR,” he said, noting that power struggles over overseas campaigns erupted between the KGB and the Defense Ministry.

“Priority for operational activities abroad has always been given to the army and military intelligence – the GRU,” Kovalenko said, noting that the KGB pushed the GRU to get better access and a better budget.

“But everything changed with the arrival of Putin.”

Putin, who served as a KGB foreign intelligence officer for nearly two decades, favored the FSB and granted it more freedoms than historically granted.

“It is with his blessing that the first steps to form a PMC have begun,” Kovalenko added.

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The first signs of Putin’s mercenary force appeared during Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. In 2015, hired soldiers were doing Putin’s bidding in Syria to support its president, Bashar al-Assad, and to achieve goals that the Kremlin did not want its military to be tied to.

Wagner is now thought to operate not only in Ukraine and Syria, but across Africa in the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Madagascar and maybe in Eritrea.

“At first glance, it may seem that PMC Wagner’s presence in a particular African country is a business and nothing more,” Kovalenko explained. “For example, in the Central African Republic, it is not only the service of the local dictator and his protection against cold hard cash.

This undated photograph released by the French military shows three Russian mercenaries, right, in northern Mali.

This undated photograph released by the French military shows three Russian mercenaries, right, in northern Mali.
(French Army via AP)

“It is also the control of deposits of precious metals and precious stones,” he added.

Kovalenko said controlling natural resources is just one of Russia’s goals.

“Russia’s goal is to expand its influence on the African continent, take control of local government and, as an end goal, create a pool of African states loyal to [Moscow]“, said Kovalenko, noting that these tactics are carried out by information warfare, interference in elections and the general destabilization of societies.

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While an estimated 10,000 Russian mercenaries are scattered across Africa, the Wagner business has grown significantly since Putin invaded Ukraine.

Some 50,000 Wagner forces are estimated to be operating in Ukraine, Kirby confirmed on Friday, a feat made possible only by Prigozhin’s ability to turn to the Russian penal system after the group suffered massive casualties early in the war.

Of the 50,000 troops committed to Ukraine, around 10,000 are believed to be professional contractors while 40,000 are convicts, Kirby confirmed.

Following this shift in recruitment, Kovalenko explained, the group was split between professional mercenaries with combat experience who typically work in Africa and the Middle East or train Russian troops in Belarus and criminal recruits who he says , are used as “live meat,” bodies to fill in the forehead lines.

A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, November 10, 2022.

A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, November 10, 2022.
(AP Photo/Libkos, File)

Kovalenko said around 20,000 Wagner mercenaries had been sent to the axis from Bakhmut to Donetsk alone, although he noted the situation remained ‘fluid’ so it was unclear how many were killed or replaced.

Ukraine estimates that Russia lost more than 120,000 soldiers, although it is unclear whether this also includes Wagner’s forces as mercenaries who are not usually considered military casualties.

Wagnerian forces and Russian troops generally do not work together. Despite the Ministry of Defense statement regarding the joint effort to capture Soledarthe Russian government maintains a level of detachment from the mercenary group.

“PMC Wagner is dangerous because he has contacts with many radical groups around the world,” Kovalenko said, including groups from Donbass. “The Wagnerians do not respect the Geneva Convention.”

Wagner’s expert said Prigozhin extorted money from captured Ukrainian soldiers, often rendering them “paralyzed, with terrible bodily injuries”, although Fox News Digital could not independently verify these exchanges.

“Therefore, at the official level, a direct link between PMC Wagner and the Russian government will never be recognized,” he added. “This makes it easier to ignore crimes…not just in Ukraine but around the world.”

This still from video shows soldiers burying bodies near a military base in northern Mali.  The French army says it has videos of Russian mercenaries burying bodies near a military base in northern Mali.

This still from video shows soldiers burying bodies near a military base in northern Mali. The French army says it has videos of Russian mercenaries burying bodies near a military base in northern Mali.
(French Army via AP)

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Despite claimed separations between the Russian Ministry of Defense and Wagner, they share an undeniable copacetic relationship.

“Therein lies the paradox. After all, to ruthlessly criticize and attack the Russian Ministry of DefensePrigozhin bites the hand that provides him with everything necessary for the war,” Kovalenko said.

“After all, where did PMC Wagner get its tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, helicopters and planes, artillery and ammunition in huge quantities?” he added. “Does this FSB give Prigozhin? No. All this is provided by the Ministry of Defense.”

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