Months ago, when everyone was trying to figure out when and where Ukraine would launch its counteroffensive, I suggested in a comment that they should direct it straight at Bakhmut — not so much to gain back territory, but with the objective of utterly destroying the Wagner Group force there.
My thinking was that not only would it send a particularly loathsome group of neo-Nazi thugs to the hell they richly deserve, it would deliver a crushing morale blow to an already reeling Russian effort to have its most effective fighting force wiped out.
What I have read recently just reinforces the need to defeat an army that revels in barbarism, even if some of it is myth-making.
Consider what is reported in this thread, which quotes the Russian Criminal website. Warning: The content describes Wagner’s brutal tactics in detail.
3/ The Russian Criminal website, which is linked to the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel, has posted an account of how Wagner's reputation for brutality, torture and murder grew over the past decade. This thread summarises Russian Criminal's account (content warning).
4/ Wagner reportedly had a poor opinion of all sides in the Syrian war. Its founder Dmitry Utkin took the attitude that "we are Slavs, Russians, whites". Assad's forces were distinguished by their poor training and cowardice, civilians were treacherous and ISIS was unspeakable.
5/ The conflict was of a far lower intensity than in Ukraine. Bored Wagner fighters got into the habit of buying the severed heads of "Islamic fighters", but had to give this up because of the number of heads they were acquiring.
7/ Wagner members took to using sledgehammers to 'discipline' deserters from pro-Assed militia groups. With captured ISIS members, "everything was much tougher, because they tortured the prisoners harshly and always ... creativity was allowed and at least not punished."
8/ This was often filmed or photographed. Wagner acquired from ISIS a habit of turning executions into "a form of "torture art" with beautiful shots and non-trivial plots." This approach has persisted to the present day.
9/ The group was also involved in the conflict in Ukraine's Donbas region from 2014. Here, the situation was of "complete chaos, chaos and looting, disguised as a war ... cruelty here often took the form of manic sadism, which everyone was engaged in."
Wagner even got involved in producing and selling snuff videos.
11/ Wagner members (who are nicknamed 'Musicians') engaged in torture as "the simplest and most effective way to obtain information". However, it was corrupted by the emergence of a market in real-life torture and murder videos, which Wagner was well-placed to supply.
12/ "The buyers of the videos varied – from the mainstream to those who bought "exclusives": sometimes they even ordered a type of execution and torture. As soon as the bosses saw that this did not improve morale, they quietly shut down the Musicians' activities."
The invasion of Ukraine last year just ratcheted the cruelty up to new levels, especially after Wagner started to recruit prisoners.
15/ "When mass recruitment of criminals began in Wagner, discipline was totally ratcheted up to a level that never existed in the normal army…
16/ "At the peak of their recruitment from the [penal colonies], the Wagnerites shot their 500s [refuseniks] and insolent criminals in far greater numbers than they shot POWs. Looting and rape were taboo because wherever a looter or rapist was born. a fighter died."
17/ Torture and murder videos proliferated, including at Wagner's highest levels. Prigozhin, who is himself a former convict who served time for violent crimes, "has a video on his phone, where a looter was skinned alive and put on a drip to make him suffer longer.
Wagner units engaged in contests to see who was “cooler and tougher” with executions.
CNN also has an analysis of Wagner’s field tactics, which have their own brand of brutality.
19/ According to Russian Criminal, veteran Wagner members "say that the level of brutality in torture also depended on the closeness of overlap with other units.
20/ "It was like a version of a "pissing contest" [literally "measuring pussy"] with the military, over who was cooler and tougher in carrying out an execution."
21/ Wagner members competed to find ever more exotic ways of killing prisoners, like inserting electric heaters into their bodies and turning them on. However, the apparent estrangement of the Wagner Group from the Russian military has led to a paradoxical drop-off in brutality.
22/ They now "operate mostly independently, which also does not contribute to the "competitive spirit" of sophistication (in torture methods)." Executions are now mostly carried out using firing squads; "the sledgehammer is exotic, a symbol."
“Assault groups do not withdraw without a command… Unauthorized withdrawal of a team or without being wounded is punishable by execution on the spot.”
Phone intercepts obtained by a Ukrainian intelligence source and shared with CNN also indicate a merciless attitude on the battlefield. In one, a soldier is heard talking about another who tried to surrender to the Ukrainians.
“The Wagnerians caught him and cut his f**king balls off,” the soldier says.
It also contains the disturbing notion that the Russian Army may be morphing more into Wagner.
Wounded Wagner fighters are often left on the battlefield for hours, according to the Ukrainian assessment. “Assault infantry is not allowed to carry the wounded off the battlefield on their own, as their main task is to continue the assault until the goal is achieved. If the assault fails, retreat is also allowed only at night.”
Despite a brutal indifference to casualties – demonstrated by Prigozhin himself – the Ukrainian analysis says 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.”
It suggests the Russian army may even be adapting its tactics to become more like Wagner, saying: “Instead of the classic battalion tactical groups of the Russian Armed Forces, assault units are proposed.”
Wagner’s assaults often result in 80% casualties for their cannon fodder. What is amazing about Russian culture is that there are apparently no repercussions from the public about such suicidal tactics.
The Ukrainian report says that Wagner deploys its forces in mobile groups of about 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 the Wagner soldiers have is the use of communications equipment made by Motorola, according to the document.
Motorola told CNN it has suspended all sales to Russia and closed its operations there.
Convicts – tens of thousands of whom have been recruited by Wagner – frequently form the first wave in an attack and take the heaviest casualties – as high as 80% according to Ukrainian officials.
More experienced fighters, with thermal imagery and night-vision equipment, follow.
If Putin is ultimately deposed by this war, let’s hope that his successor isn’t Prigozhin.
Two months ago, Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace likened Prigozhin’s growing influence to that of Grigori Rasputin at the court of Tsar Nicholas II. “Putin needs military effectiveness at any cost,” he told Current Time TV.
“There is a negative diabolical charisma in [Prigozhin], and in a sense this charisma can compete with Putin’s. Putin now needs him in this capacity, in this form.”
Prigozhin appears to have been intrigued by the comparison with Rasputin, a mystical figure who treated the Tsar’s son for hemophilia, the bleeding disorder. But in comments this weekend published by his company Concord, he had his own typical twist on it.
“Unfortunately, I do not staunch blood flow. I bleed the enemies of our motherland. And not by incantations, but by direct contact with them.”
On the other hand, as The Daily Beast reports, the world could get lucky.
The Kremlin signaled Tuesday that Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin could soon find himself the target of an assassination attempt.
Although Prigozhin is widely reported to have pissed off many officials in Vladimir Putin’s orbit with his antics in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it is actually authorities in Kyiv that Prigozhin should worry about.
Prigozhin, appearing to relish in the prospect of acquiring martyr status in Russian society, quipped through his press service that killing him was a “very good idea.”
“I agree that it’s time to eliminate Prigozhin. If they turn to me, I will definitely assist,” he joked.
Even some pro-war Russian commentators were quick to point out on social media that the biggest threat for the Wagner boss is more likely right at home.
“It seems to me that those who are most interested in Prigozhin's elimination are located near the Kremlin,” one commentator wrote. “They’ll just leak information about [his] movements and locations to the Ukrainians.”
Just how awful is Prigozhin? Here’s one more item, as if one more is needed.
He’s this awful.