Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 17 January 2023 Author: Grzegorz Kuczyński
Russia’s Claim to Seize Ukraine’s Soledar Reveals Rifts Between Prigozhin, Shoigu
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that its troops had taken control of the town, Soledar but made no mention of the Kremlin-affiliated Wagner private military company, marking a years-long clash between these two. When on January 13 Russian forces claimed that Soledar had fallen to its fighters, pointedly saying that the Wagner mercenary group was not involved. After the statement from Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the private military company, the Russian defense ministry had issued a rare sign of recognition for Wagner Group. Yet Prigozhin has not won the quarrel with the defense ministry.
Efforts to seize Soledar are considered a sign of infighting between Wagner Group boss and the Russian defense ministry. For Prigozhin, capturing Bakhmut and also Soledar was a matter of honor so he ordered waves of troops into fighting in the region. The Russian occupiers found some weak spots in the defense of Ukrainian soldiers in the Bakhmut area. Most Wagner fighters and regular troops were transferred from Bakhmut to flank Soledar in the north and south. A Russian claim of victory came after a week of intense combat. Ukraine has denied claims by Russia that its forces are now in control of the bitterly contested town of Soledar. The city itself has little strategic value and is unlikely to significantly change the battle for eastern Ukraine. The city yet seems more important for the public quarrel between Prigozhin and the Russian defense ministry. Wagner Group boss seeks to claim victory to show the superiority of his fighters over regular troops. The thing is that both fought alongside each other. In addition, those who tipped the scale were regular soldiers including spetsnaz, airborne troops, and the 20th Guards Mechanized Division. Indeed, Prigozhin is winning information warfare and has the support of what is known as “milbloggers”, many of whom are financed either by himself or the FSB. In a nutshell, Wagner Group did not perform as well in the battle of Soledar as Prigozhin would have thought. Wagner Group boss lashed out at Russian generals, considering them enemies of Russia. The question is how the quarrel might influence the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia is hoping to stage a major ground assault, where a set of objectives have been specified. Prigozhin is likely to claim victory but whether Gerasimov will allow this is not known. Such disputes within Russia are beneficial for Ukraine.
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