Ukraine: Footage appears to show strike on Russian unit
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Putin is caught in a battle for media dominance against the rising media profile of the Wagner Group, the Russian-allied PMC whose fighters have been doing much of the military’s heavy lifting in eastern Ukraine. The mercenary company’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has garnered a large following on Russian social media and in the military blogosphere since the conflict began in February 2022.
The latest analysis by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) suggests the Kremlin has been forced to publicly challenge Wagner’s media narrative, pushing back on the suggestion the mercenary group was “solely responsible for capturing Soledar”.
Vladimir Putin Ministry went to great lengths to praise the actions of the Russian Defence Ministry and the General Staff for the taking of the town in Donetsk during a recent television appearance, according to ISW.
The US-based thinktank believes this was “likely a deliberate effort to undermine Prigozhin’s influence within the Russian information space, given that Putin has previously refrained from commenting on tactical advances in Ukraine”.
It added: “Putin may have also sought to demonstrate he retains control over traditional Russian mass media, while Prigozhin continues to grow an audience on Telegram and other social media networks.”
Ukraine’s troops face fierce fighting in the eastern Donetsk province, where Russian forces, backed by thousands of private Wagner Group contractors, look to reverse a run of battlefield setbacks in recent months.
It has been reported that Wagner has been recruiting former prisoners to fight in Ukraine.
According to the Washington Post, the United States estimates that Wagner has a total of 50,000 troops in Ukraine, with 40,000 of them being convicts recruited from prisons.
Other sources also indicate this recruitment of convicts, for instance, one Russian magazine has reported that Wagner is recruiting convicts from inside St. Petersburg prisons, promising them 200,000 rubles (£2,400) for six months and freedom if they survive the conflict.
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The group has become increasingly influential in Africa, where it has been pushing Russian disinformation, building alliances with regimes, and gaining access to oil, gas, gold, diamonds, and valuable minerals.
February 24 will mark the first anniversary of Putin’s invasion, but Western analysts believe he is preparing for a drawn-out war.
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