Reports from the frontline of Russia’s bloody battle for the Ukrainian city of Soledar suggests Vladimir Putin is becoming increasingly “desperate” and “is losing this war”.
Russia’s group of “ruthless” mercenaries, the Wagner Group, are claiming to have killed 500 Ukrainian soldiers and to have liberated the city. But commentators on the conflict say Putin's reliance on mercenaries run by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner and a close ally of the president, is a sign of weakness.
"I want to confirm the complete liberation and cleansing of the territory of Soledar," Prigozhin said in a statement. "The whole city is littered with the corpses of Ukrainian soldiers."
The statement comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mocked previous assertions by Wagner that Soledar had fallen. The claims were also disputed by soldiers fighting for Ukraine. News agency Reuters, which has journalists and photographers on the ground, has so far been unable to verify the situation.
Russia turned to Wagner Group out of ‘desperation’
ABC Global Affairs Editor John Lyons described the battle for Soledar as “horribly brutal”, saying it is “reminiscent of the WWI battle with trenches and mud”.
Speaking to ABC Radio, he said that while it’s not clear if Russia has taken over the city, what is clear is that “Ukraine is in trouble”. He also pointed out that Russia’s use of the Wagner Group over their own army is a sign of weakness.
“Now this suggests a growing realisation at the top of the Russian military command that their own soldiers are not up to the Ukrainian army, and that the Wagner mercenaries might give Russia a better chance of victory,” Lyons said.
His sentiments were echoed by Dame Barbara Woodward, the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations. “For me, this is another indication of Russia’s desperation,” she told LBC news, saying the group are buying “dodgy, old, out-of-date” weapons from North Korea.
“They have no qualms about torture, violations of human rights. They have no ethical or moral code… The tragedy is, in playing illegally in war, Russia is deliberately targeting Ukrainian civilians and Ukrainian infrastructure.”
Wagner Group ‘a bunch of clowns’
A US Marine fighting for Ukraine told ABC Radio on Thursday morning Soledar has not fallen, and Wagner fighters were nothing but “a bunch of clowns”.
Tuc Smash – not his real name – said the quality of Russian fighters has noticeably decreased and shut down notions that the group is highly skilled.
“They’re a bunch of clowns,” he said. “They recruit anybody and anything and they’re supposed to be this really high-tier PMC [private military company], but they’re a bunch of goofy kids that are playing dress up and getting smoked on every front, left and right.”
Putin ‘under pressure’ as he sacks ANOTHER military leader
Russia has made another change to its leadership after Putin sacked yet another commander, Sergei Surovikin, after only three months.
Lyons, who spoke to ABC Radio from Kyiv, claims the move shows the instability within the Kremlin.
“The significance of this appears to be that it indicates a growing disarray in the Kremlin and in the Russian military command,” he said. “Clearly, Vladimir Putin is now a man under growing pressure as it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Russia is losing this war.”
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday appointed Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov as overall commander for what Moscow calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine, now in its 11th month.
Surovikin was appointed only in October to lead the invasion and oversaw heavy attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure.
One prominent military blogger who posts on the Telegram messaging app under the name of Rybar said Surovikin was being made the fall guy for recent Russian military debacles. Those included a Ukrainian attack on a Russian barracks that killed at least 89 Russian soldiers over New Year's.
Surovikin was ordered to head the campaign after Ukrainian offensives turned the tide of the war and drew attention to poor training, equipment and morale among Russian forces.
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