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The video showing Evgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, in the middle of a recruitment operation inside a Russian prison 800 kilometers from Moscow, is a sign of weakness on the part of Russia – and of its difficulties in finding of men to fight. Ukraine. Explanations.
A person, identified as Evguéni Prigojine, the leader of the Wagner group, is known to be close to Putin, says the prisoners. In a video published on Wednesday, September 14, the supposed financier of the Wagner militia offers several men gathered in the yard of a Russian penal colony a martial “deal”. “If you do six months in Ukraine, you’re free. But if you get there and decide it’s not for you, we’ll kill you,” he said coldly.
And the man detailed his conditions: “The first sin is to leave. No one will be a prisoner. No one will retreat, no one will surrender. When you are trained, you will be told how to behave. You will be told about two grenades you should have with you if you get caught.”
The prisoners have five minutes to make their choice.
Wagner’s recruitment methods in prisons are already known, as is the presence of his mercenaries in Ukraine, where they are accused of participating in the Boutcha massacre. But this is the first time Yevgeny Prigojine has publicly acknowledged his links to the militia.
A trump card up Putin’s sleeve
For Lukas Aubin, director of research at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris) and author of Geopolitics of Russia (ed. La Découverte), this video is a “show of strength and admission of weakness” from Kremlin.
“It is not certain that Prigozhin mastered the dissemination of this video. It could have leaked without his permission, the researcher explained. tricked his arm, that he still has resources despite his difficulties in Ukraine. Mercenary is now officially one of them.’
The video was leaked days after Russian troops abandoned their positions in the face of a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the eastern Kharkiv region.
Indeed it is unthinkable that Yevgeny Prigojine took the initiative to recruit a prison without the permission of the Kremlin. The famous paramilitary formation, especially known for its participation in wars such as insurgencies in the Central African Republic and Mali, until then played in the ambiguity of its relations with the Russian state. Which now seems to be over.
“When he chooses to publicly show Prigojine recruiting prisoners, Putin is trying to reassure the Russian population, continues Lukas Aubin. This is a propaganda operation, he shows that he has solutions at hand, which can also appealing to Westerners and Ukrainians, but it is still a sign of weakness.”
The need to resort to paramilitary organizations really proves the bad situation of the Russian army, which cannot recruit enough people to fight in Ukraine. The Kremlin still describes the conflict in Ukraine as a “special operation” and not a war, preventing it from triggering a general mobilization.
Difficulties in army recruitment
“Sending Wagner to recruit prisons shows that there are not enough volunteers, bounced Jeff Hawns, specialist in Russian military issues and external consultant at the New Lines Institute, an American center for geopolitics research. Russian has a terrible reputation, most people say they would rather be in prison than in the army… while Wagner still enjoys fame from his operations abroad, but that is not good.
The recruitment session could also be a sign of tensions within the regime: “There must be internal conflicts within Russian institutions, suggests Jeff Harms. My brothers, I am better”.
But we must not let ourselves get carried away, says the expert: Wagner’s effect can be “neglected” on the battlefield. “Wagner is not an elite formation, it is a collection of social cases. [avant la guerre en Ukraine, NDLR] poorly trained and poorly equipped opponents. Nothing to do with a regular army.”
However, there are other cards in the hands of Vladimir Putin, says Lukas Aubin: general mobilization and nuclear weapons. But for now, he argues, this recruitment operation says something about the Kremlin’s strategy. “The use of Wagner allowed the Russian authorities not to call for general mobilization, says the researcher. This recruitment operation also took place in a prison located in the Republic of Maris, a region where live the ethnic minorities. C is a way of keeping the Russians. population at a distance and keeping it in a passive posture.”