Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group appears to be failing to stand as a military structure without assistance from Russia’s defense, according to the latest report from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
The U.S.-based think tank wrote in its assessment on Friday that the private mercenary organization was “increasingly proving to be a parasitic paramilitary entity,” pointing to instances when the Wagner Group has reportedly misidentified deceased soldiers to their loved ones.
The ISW repeated a report from the Russian opposition news outlet, TV Dozhd, that the wife of a Wagner fighter had received a sealed coffin and death certificate for her supposedly deceased husband, only to later discover that he was alive and being held in Ukrainian custody.
“These reports suggest that Wagner lacks basic administrative organs to maintain records of individual servicemen and communicate properly with authorities” the ISW wrote, noting that Prigozhin “ironically has gone to great lengths to criticize the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) establishment, which he has accused of being inept in precisely these ways.”
Prigozhin’s fighters may also be relying on the MoD for military equipment on the front lines in the war with Ukraine, reported ISW, suggesting that the Wagner Group is acting more like a “parasite attached to the Russian armed forces” rather than a self-contained organization.
An infographic posted Friday by a prominent Wagner Group-affiliate military blogger showed an array of “military assets” that Wagner soldiers are using in the brutal fight for the city of Bakhmut, including systems that the ISW noted are “typically a military district-level asset.”
These shortcomings among Wagner’s militia come at a time when Prigozhin has been “increasingly bold” in his criticism of the Russian military, the think tank reported this week. John Kirby, White House national security spokesman, told reporters at a briefing Friday that U.S. intelligence has also found evidence that tensions between the MoD and Wagner Group are escalating.
“Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” Kirby said.
“Prigozhin is trying to advance his own interest in Ukraine and Wagner is making military decisions based largely on what they will generate for Prigozhin in terms of positive publicity.”
Prigozhin, a Russian businessman, has long been considered a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his private mercenary group has played a key role in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The close Kremlin companion recently had a rift with the MoD regarding the battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Soledar, however, after the Russian ministry claimed victory over the salt-mining town without acknowledging Wagner’s role.
The Russian ministry later followed up with a report clarifying that Soledar was “successfully attained thanks to the courageous and selfless actions of the volunteers from Wagner PMC units.”
On Friday, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley also told reporters that the war in Ukraine was “turning into an absolute catastrophe for Russia” and Putin, noting the “massive amounts” of Russian casualties and damage to its military.
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.