A “show of strength and admission of weakness” from the Kremlin

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The video, which shows Evgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, in the midst of a recruitment drive inside a Russian prison 800 kilometers from Moscow, is a sign of Russia’s weakness – and its difficulties in finding men to fight. Ukraine. Explanations.

A man identified as Evgeny PrigogineChairman Wagner group, known to be close to Putin, tortures prisoners. In a video released Wednesday, Sept. 14, the Wagner militia’s financier offers a self-defense “deal” to dozens of men gathered in the courtyard of a Russian penal colony. “If you do six months in Ukraine, you’re free. But if you go there and decide it’s not for you, we’ll execute you,” he said coldly.

And the man detailed his conditions: “The first sin is to run away, no one can be taken prisoner, no one retreats, no one surrenders. Once you are trained, you will be told how to behave. You will be told about two grenades. You must have them with you if you are caught. “

The prisoners have five minutes to choose.

Wagner’s prison recruitment methods were already well known Its mercenary presence in Ukraine, They were accused of participating in it In the Boutsa Massacre. But this is the first time Yevgeny Prigozhin has publicly acknowledged his links to the militants.

A trump card up Putin’s sleeve

For Lucas Aupin (ed. La Decovert), director of research at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) and author of Russia’s Geopolitics, the video is an “admission of strength and weakness” by the Kremlin. .

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“It is not certain that Prigozhin mastered the dissemination of this video. It could have been leaked without his permission,” the researcher explains.

The video was leaked days after Russian troops abandoned their positions in eastern Kharkiv region in the face of Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s initiative to recruit in prison without the Kremlin’s approval is truly unthinkable. A popular paramilitary organization, particularly known for its participation in wars such as insurgencies. Central African Republic and at Mali, has thus far played on the ambiguity of its relations with the Russian state. That seems to be over now.

“Putin is trying to reassure the Russian people if he wants to publicly show Prigozhin’s recruitment of prisoners,” continues Lukas Aubin. “It’s a propaganda move, showing he still has solutions at hand, which can appeal to Westerners and Ukrainians, but it’s still a sign of weakness.”

The need to resort to paramilitary organizations is indeed evident The poor condition of the Russian army, could not recruit enough men to fight in Ukraine. The Kremlin still describes the conflict in Ukraine as a “special operation” and not a war, preventing it from provoking a general mobilization.

Military recruiting difficulties

“Sending Wagner into prisons to recruit shows that there aren’t enough volunteers,” said Jeff Hans, an expert on Russian military issues and an external consultant at the New Lines Institute, a US center for research in geopolitics. Russians have a bad reputation, most people say. … At the same time Wagner is enjoying prestige from his foreign activities, but it is not good.”

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The recruiting session could also be a sign of tensions within the regime: “There must be internal conflicts within Russian institutions, suggests Jeff Harms. Yevgeny Prigozhin thinks the Russian military has failed in Ukraine, so he told Putin “let me handle it. My guys, I’ll be fine”.

But we shouldn’t let ourselves get carried away, the expert says: Wagner’s impact on the battlefield will be “minimal”. “Wagner was not an elite creation, it was a collection of social cases. They were certainly very effective on the battlefield, but they were confronted. [avant la guerre en Ukraine, NDLR] Poorly trained and poorly equipped opponents. Nothing can be done with the regular army.”

However, Vladimir Putin still has other cards up his sleeve, Lucas Aubin notes: mass mobilization and nuclear weapons. But for now, he argues, the recruitment drive says something about the Kremlin’s strategy. “Using Wagner allows Russian authorities not to call for general mobilization, the researcher says. The recruitment operation also took place in a prison located in the Republic of Maris, a region inhabited by ethnic minorities. C is a way to keep the Russian population at bay and inactive.”

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