Russia’s Defense Ministry made a rare public acknowledgement Friday of the success of mercenary group Wagner in the war in Ukraine. The ministry said that Wagner soldiers successfully captured the small town of Soledar in the Donetsk Region. This recognition comes amid a long-running conflict between the Armed Forces and Wagner, which has been involved in the war since day — but without any official status.
- Soledar is a small town 10 kilometers north of the larger Bakhmut which Russian mercenary forces have been trying and failing to capture since the summer. Wagner founder, Evgeny Prigozhin, announced the capture of Soledar on Jan. 12. The next day, the Defense Ministry reported the “liberation” of Soledar, but its press release made no mention of Wagner.
- In response, Prigozhin said that “someone is constantly trying to rob [the Wagner Group] of its victory.” About eight hours later, the ministry circulated a new statement that admitted that direct attacks on Soledar were undertaken “by the courageous and selfless actions of… Wagner assault squads.”
- The dispute between Prigozhin and the Ministry of Defense is long running. The businessman has reportedly criticized the performance of military commanders in face-to-face conversations with President Vladimir Putin and believes that the ministry “relies too much” on fighters from his group.
- The conflict entered a new phase in late December when the mercenaries released a video calling Valery Gerasimov, head of Russia’s General Staff, a “fag” and a “damned fucker.” Wagner’s soldiers have complained about a lack of ammunition and support from the army. Prigozhin openly supported the men who made the video.
Why the world should care
Prigozhin, the leader of a paramilitary group with no legal status in Russia, has nothing like the resources of men and equipment available to the Armed Forces. However, Wagner has significant media resources, which can sometimes be just as powerful.