Intelligence Report Reveals Wagner’s Brutal Tactics In Ukraine

(CNN) — Fighters from the Wagner Group have become the expendable infantry of the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, but a Ukrainian military intelligence document obtained by CNN exposes how effective they have been around the city of Bakhmut – and how difficult which is to fight them.

Wagner is a private military contractor run by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been highly visible on the front lines in recent weeks, always quick to take credit for Russian advances. Wagner’s fighters have been heavily involved in taking Soledar, a few kilometers northeast of Bakhmut, and areas close to the city.

The Ukrainian report—dated December 2022—concludes that Wagner represents a unique melee threat, even if he suffers extraordinary casualties. “The deaths of thousands of Wagner soldiers do not matter to Russian society,” the report states.

“Strike groups do not withdraw without an order… Unauthorized withdrawal of a team or without being wounded is punishable by execution on the spot.”

Wiretaps obtained by a Ukrainian intelligence source and shared with CNN also indicate a ruthless attitude on the battlefield. In one of them, a soldier is heard talking about another who tried to surrender to the Ukrainians.

“The Wagnerians caught him and cut off his fucking balls,” says the soldier.

Yevgeny Prigozhin declared last week that Wagner was probably “the most experienced army in the world today.”

CNN cannot independently authenticate the call, which reportedly took place in November.

Wounded Wagner fighters are often left on the battlefield for hours, according to the Ukrainian assessment. “Assault infantry are not allowed to remove the wounded from the battlefield on their own, since their main task is to continue the assault until the objective is reached. If the assault fails, retreat is also allowed only at night “.

Despite Prigozhin’s brutal indifference to casualties, the Ukrainian analysis states that Wagner’s tactics “are the only ones that are effective for the poorly trained mobilized troops that make up the majority of Russian ground forces.”

He suggests that the Russian military may even be adapting its tactics to be more like Wagner, saying: “Instead of the classic battalion tactical groups of the Russian Armed Forces, assault units are proposed.”

That would be a significant change from the traditional Russian reliance on larger mechanized units.

On the ground, according to wiretaps from Ukrainian intelligence services, some mobilized troops are thinking of going over to Wagner. At one such interception, a soldier contrasts the Wagner with his unit and says, “It’s f***ing heaven and earth. So if I’m going to serve, I better serve there.”

What mission does the Wagner military group have in Ukraine? 3:23

The Wagner way of making war

The Ukrainian report says Wagner deploys his forces in mobile groups of a dozen or fewer, using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and exploiting real-time drone intelligence, which the report describes as the “key element.”

Another tool Wagner’s soldiers have is the use of communications equipment made by Motorola, according to the document.

Motorola told CNN that it has suspended all sales to Russia and closed its operations there.

Convicts—tens of thousands of whom have been recruited by Wagner—often form the first wave in an attack and suffer the heaviest casualties—up to 80%, according to Ukrainian officials.

They are followed by more experienced fighters, with thermal imaging and night vision equipment.

For the Ukrainians, their own drone intelligence is essential to prevent their trenches from being overwhelmed by grenade attacks. The document recounts an incident in December in which a drone spotted an advancing Wagner group, allowing Ukrainian defenses to eliminate it before its troops could fire RPGs.

If Wagner’s forces manage to take a position, artillery support allows them to dig trenches and consolidate their advances, but those trenches are highly vulnerable to attack in the open. And again—according to Ukrainian intercepts—coordination between Wagner and the Russian military is often poor. In an intercepted call—again unverifiable—a soldier told his father that his unit had mistakenly shot down a Wagner vehicle.

Prigozhin has repeatedly insisted that his fighters were responsible for last week’s seizure of the town of Soledar and nearby settlements, the first Russian military achievements in months. “No unit other than Wagner’s PMC participated in the assault on Soledar,” he said.

Wagner’s performance is Prigozhin’s way to get more resources and is decisive in his ongoing battle with the Russian military establishment, which he has frequently criticized as inept and corrupt.

According to British intelligence, the chief of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, gave orders that the soldiers should be better prepared. Prigozhin replied that “war is the hour of the active and brave, and not of the clean-shaven.”

The PMC Wagner Center in Saint Petersburg.

Commenting on Gerasimov’s new restrictions, the UK Defense Ministry said Monday: “The Russian force continues to endure operational stalemate and heavy casualties; Gerasimov’s prioritization of largely lower standards is likely to confirm fears. of his many skeptics in Russia”.

Gerasimov was appointed commanding general of Russia’s so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine earlier this month amid mounting criticism of his faltering progress.

As long as the Russian Defense Ministry is underperforming, Prigozhin will be hot on its heels, demanding more resources for Wagner.

The group also appears capable of obtaining weapons through other means. US officials claimed last week that Wagner had obtained weapons from North Korea. “Last month, North Korea delivered rockets and infantry missiles to Russia for Wagner’s use,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The new Rasputin?

Prigozhin does not lack ambition. Last week, in Soledar, he declared that Wagner was probably “the most experienced army in the world today.”

He stated that his forces already had multiple launch rocket systems, their own air defenses and artillery.

Prigozhin also made a subtle comparison between Wagner and the top-down rigidity of the Russian military, stating that “everyone on the ground is heard. Commanders consult the fighters, and PMC (private military company) leaders consult the controls”.

“That’s why Wagner’s PMC has advanced and will continue to advance.”

Two months ago, Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, compared Prigozhin’s growing influence to that of Grigori Rasputin at the court of Tsar Nicholas II. “Putin needs military efficiency at any cost,” he told Current Time TV.

“There is a negative devilish charisma in [Prigozhin], and in a sense this charisma can compete with that of Putin. Putin needs him now in this capacity, in this form.”

Prigozhin seems to have been intrigued by the comparison to Rasputin, a mystical figure who treated the Czar’s son for haemophilia, the bleeding disorder. But in comments posted this weekend by the Concord company about him, he gave it his own typical spin.

“Unfortunately, I do not stop the flow of blood. I make the enemies of our country bleed. And not by spells, but by direct contact with them.”

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