As the Russian invasion of Ukraine falters, one group is having some success on the battlefield. The brutally effective Wagner PMC is led by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin. And the Ukrainian leadership is concerned about the success of Wagner.
CNN obtained exclusively a military document outlining Kyiv’s assessment of the group. “There are also purely military reasons for Wagner’s effectiveness,” the document says, “as the command structure and tactics currently used are only effective for the poorly trained mobilization forces that make up the majority of Russia’s ground forces.”
The Ukrainian military filmed a video showing Wagner’s offensive tactics using waves of fighters trying to overrun and encircle a Ukrainian position.
“The missions are prepared to be as primitive as possible. To achieve the objective, several attack groups are deployed, and attacks can be carried out for a long period of time without any regard for losses,” the document states.
Convicts are often used mainly as cannon bait in the first waves.
“The death of thousands of Wagner’s soldiers does not concern Russian society,” the military document asserts, and “the unauthorized or uninjured withdrawal of a team is punishable by immediate death.”
Prigogine does not hide the fact that losses do not concern him. He recently visited a building where the bodies of the dead were kept. “Their contracts are over and they are going home,” he said in a video.
But he also claims to respect the Ukrainians who defend against his mercenaries, saying they are fighting valiantly. “You should be more careful by sending them in a dignified way,” he said while overseeing a recent exchange of bodies between Wagner and the Ukrainian military.
But internally it is a brutal regime. A pro-Wagner social media channel recently posted a video of mercenaries wielding a sledgehammer to kill a former comrade who allegedly defected and criticized the group.
These stories spread on the battlefield, too. Ukrainian intelligence intercepted a call, which CNN could not independently verify, of a Russian soldier talking to a friend about Wagner.
The soldier told his friend: “One of them ran to the Ukrainians. Wagner’s people caught him and cut off his testicles,” to which the other replied, “They hit one of them on the head with a sledgehammer. I saw the video.” Before the soldier said, “Well, this guy’s testicles were cut off. It wasn’t a video, just like that…”.
Still, Wagner morale seems high, the Ukrainians say, and the fighters are often better equipped than the regular Russian forces, thanks to what the Ukrainians claim is U.S.-made technology.
“Unlike the Russian Armed Forces, Wagner’s main means of communication are US-made radio transmitters and Motorola transmitters,” the Ukrainian document notes.
CNN reached out to Motorola for a statement, and it said that shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the company stopped all sales to both Russia and Belarus and closed its operations there.
For their part, the Ukrainians say that despite the infighting we see between the Russian Defense Ministry and Wagner, and specifically Prigozhin, the Russian military now appears to be recommending some of those brutal Wagner offensive tactics to Russian regular forces as well.