The capture of the Ukrainian town of Soledar on the Bakhmut front by the Wagner Private Military Company represented a Russian military success after a succession of setbacks. Wagner's success elicited favorable press for the company including comparisons between its performance and the spotty achievements of the regular Russian army.
Russian businessman, and the founder of Wagner PMC Yevgeny Prigozhin, in a revealing statement, claimed that the biggest threat to his company was posed not by the US that seeks to neutralize it, but by infighting within the Russian military leadership.
"You know, I’m not really worried about the actions of the United States, because, of course, this is a serious adversary, but at the moment it’s not the key one...- Significant damage to Wagner PMC can be caused by our intraspecific struggle, corruption, bureaucracy and officials who want to stay in their places. This is a more serious threat to the existence of Wagner PMC. For example, recently the media has been actively working to ban the phrase "PMC Wagner", not to say it out loud and in every possible way to avoid it like the devil incarnate."
It is easy to understand the sensitivity of the Russian defense establishment, when it encounters such paeans to Wagner's prowess and methods as the following article in Voyennoye Obozreniye (Military Review) by artillery expert Roman Skomorokhov, a frequent critic of the defense establishment titled "PMC Wagner is the Army of the Future for Russia". Skomorokhov detailed why Wagner was outperforming the Russian army and reached the devastating conclusion: Today, a private company has managed to accomplish what the entire Russian Ministry of Defense and its throng of decorated generals could not. Naturally, this came as a proper slap in the face to the Defense Ministry, but what can be done if the PMC operates more successfully?
Skomorokhov's article follows below (all emphases original):
Prigozhin (right) in "liberated" Soledar (Source: Topwar.ru)
Here we go again, regarding the Wagner PMC. In fact [this article is] a continuation of the one titled "Dancing with a sledgehammer to the music of Wagner."
It’s necessary to continue the topic, because since the publication there have been several events that provided additional "food for thought." The main source is Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of PMCs himself, who gave a short but a rather capacious interview, in which he said quite a lot on the issue of the day.
"Soledar was taken in a fortnight, before that nothing was happening there for a long time, They caught Soledar in a pincer attack, after which it was divided into parts. The elephant, as the saying goes, cannot be eaten in its entirety, you have to eat it in pieces. The enemy units were pinned down; those who refused to surrender were eliminated."
The Russian Ministry of Defense did a lot to appropriate credit for Wagner’s victory, but under the pressure of facts provided it was eventually forced to admit that there were no Russian Defense Ministry contributions in the capture of Soledar. This is a plus, but we aren’t going to examine this point, we are talking about something else entirely.
But before I get to the subject of our conversation, I will take the liberty of plunging the readers back in time. Specifically, to the time of [former Defense Minister] Mr. [Anatoly] Serdyukov’s reforms. Back then the destruction of the Soviet army and the Russian army's formation began. The latter is practically speaking the one that is at the disposal of the country today. With all of its pluses and minuses.
What Did Anatoly Serdyukov Want And What Did He Do?
He fired about 223,000 officers and 140,000 warrant officers and midshipmen from the army. The lion's share of officers came from the "major to colonel" chain of command, warrant officers and midshipmen were all dismissed. Then a chain reaction of personnel dismissals followed, and it reached the point that President-elect Dmitry Medvedev gave orders back in 2011 to return about 70,000 officers to the army, because there was practically no one to serve.
Next, Serdyukov pushed through the government a significant salary increases for the officers who survived reforms (it almost tripled) and exacted a simply enormous sum to rearm the army and navy. We were already writing back then and reported that about these 20 trillion rubles. The figure seemed fantastic.
Former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov (Source: Lenta.ru)
Then the reorganization of the divisions into brigades began. The smaller permanent brigades were supposed to be ready for combat within an hour, which the divisions were incapable of.
Outsourcing. Civilian companies started to take over everyday chores. Soldiers stopped taking care of chores and reports of hazing declined drastically, especially after the period of service was reduced to one year.
The problem of housing for officers has begun to be resolved.
All in all, things seemed pretty healthy, the army with a year of compulsory service seemed to act as a quasi-filter for those, wishing to [continue in the army] on a contract basis. a professional army, that [while] not as large but well trained and equipped, loomed as the completion of the program.
However, this dream was not destined to come true. The creation of the institute of sergeants, who were envisioned to replace warrant officers, failed miserably. The sergeants, who were supposed to become the army's backbone along the lines of the American army, for some reason, weren’t eager to sign contracts. The situation with regular personnel wasn’t as bright as we would have hoped, so we had to forget about a fully contract professional army, and remained with a mixed one.
The stalled Serdyukov-Shoigu reforms have made the Russian army what it is today. Is it good or bad? Well, we simply do not have another army.
But suddenly it turned out that the army, on which billions of rubles are spent annually (in 2022 the disclosed part of the Russian military budget was 1,067.3 billion rubles, the amount of the secret part, understandably, is unknown) and which cannot for some puzzling reasons demonstrate its effectiveness, has a competitor. Moreover, it’s a private military company.
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It would be very interesting to compare the budget of the Russian Defense Ministry and the Wagner PMC calculated per soldier. That is, how much money is spent on upkeep of one soldier. It’s clear that the difference between the Russian MoD and PMCs will be huge, but, nevertheless it would be interesting.
"Reading Reports From The Front, One Must Reluctantly Ask Oneself, 'Why Are Things Not As They Should Be?'
True, why is it that ALL more or less meaningful action are only made by the PMC, while the entire Russian army is in permanent stasis?
Many people today wonder why the PMC, whose personnel were recruited by Prigozhin from prisons, not just wages war, but do it competently and (no less important) successfully? After all, it is nonsense when criminals recruited from correction colonies are suddenly more effective than the "indestructible and legendary" army?
Not really. The first piece answered this question. It is all about the enormous motivation of the Wagner fighters, which simply cannot be silenced or distorted.
However, the question of efficiency was best answered by Prigozhin himself:
"As for the many questions from journalists about the Wagner PMC fighters - where is their effectiveness coming from?
First, they have been fighting for many years. They are, probably, the most experienced army in the world today.
Second, they perform all the tasks on their own. They have aircraft piloted by hero-pilots, who are not afraid to die, they have MLRS of all kinds, they have air defense, which has shot down a huge number of enemy aircraft, they have artillery of all calibers, tanks, APCs, assault units which are virtually unrivalled.
Third: most importantly they enjoy a perfectly fine-tuned management system. The Wagner PMC hears everyone, everyone can say their opinion. All conversations end with "Is there any other opinion and what else is needed to complete the task." Everyone on the ground is heard, commanders consult with fighters, and the leadership consults with commanders.
If a decision is made, it’s carried out, no one can "back out" anymore, add to this a e brutal discipline that facilitates such potential.
That is why the Wagner PMC has advanced and will continue to advance."
Yevgeny Prigozhin (Source: Riafan.ru)
It's hard to add anything here.
Indeed, the experience of Wagner fighters [gained] in different parts of the world should not be underestimated. And the fact that many not very smart people today are trying to depict the PMCs fighters as "hamburger" is plain nonsense. Wagner's backbone was formed a long time ago, more than 10 years ago, and today, these people from the first classes are the most valuable cadres for the company's command. And there are a lot of them, who have been battle-hardened by work in Africa and the Middle East.
Who said that the Wagner PMCs are all criminals, who can be thrown into frontal assaults without regret? Naturally, only a dim-witted person, or somebody on the opposing side, could imagine such a thing. PMC fighters have excellent commanders with remarkably vast combat experience that, coupled with the training of fighters in preparatory centers provides those very results.
Unfortunately, there is a gap between those currently mobilized in the Russian army and a Wagner PMC volunteer in terms of preparation and training. "Wagner trains its fighters better for many reasons, the main one being to work for results. Any PMC, no matter what kind of PMC you look at, works for results. Because the result of the PMC’s work means reputation and money. The higher the reputation, the more expensive the PMC’s services are. It’s a normal market law, hence their thorough preparation.
At its beginning, Wagner had 1,500-3,000 fighters. During the Syrian operation, the number was already around 10-12 thousand. Naturally, it’s difficult to verify the data, but we use what is available. It’s very difficult to argue how many fighters they have today. The number of 40,000 fighters circulates on the Internet.
It’s already an army that can realistically conduct a wide variety of operations. And at the head of this army are experienced commanders who have been through Syria, CAR, Mali and other "hot-spots" that we do not know about.
By the way, a few words regarding the events in the Central African Republic, where Wagner PMC operated for three years and during that time it actually cleaned the territory of bandits and educated the armed forces of the CAR (in terms of combat experience).
Given that the entire armed forces of the CAR number no more than 4,000 men, one can only imagine what value the 300-500 Wagner fighters stationed in the country represented.
Incidentally, in the capital of the Central African Republic, in the city of Bangui, there is a rather remarkable monument. The composition has a meaning that simply cannot be interpreted ambiguously.
This is result-oriented work.
"Soledar" case is also result-oriented work. Yes, there are many incidents and opinions swirling around Wagner’s successes today, but it is an operation with a definite result. Today, a private company has managed to accomplish what the entire Russian Ministry of Defense and its throng of decorated generals could not. Naturally, this came as a proper slap in the face to the Defense Ministry, but what can be done if the PMC operates more successfully?
"This Begs The Question: Isn't This The Future Of The Russian Army That The Reformers Envisioned 20 Years Ago – A Mobile, Well-Educated And Trained, Well-Armed, And Most Importantly, A Professional Army?
Obviously, so far everything looks very tentative. Wagner PMC is equipped with planes and helicopters that have recently been decommissioned from the Russian Air Force, tanks provided by the Russian Defense Ministry and all that sort of thing, but there is motivation and there is a result!
The situation is not simple, because while the Wagner fighters were nibbling away at the elephant called "Soledar" and bit it to death, in what did the Russian army make its mark? Apart from destroying 300 Ukrainian soldiers and four pick-up trucks per day? - Nothing.
And it turns out that a crowd of generals and colonels, an army of millions (okay, let's not take the navy into account, we’ll spare it) with a huge amount of equipment, plus 300,000 conscripts… all this is inferior in efficiency to a private army of about 5 divisions-strong?
Besides, one should bear in mind that the Wagner PMC have contracts all over the world, so not everyone is operating in Ukraine, some are on contracts, some are in training. I believe that there are no more than 10-15 thousand fighters at any one time on the frontline in all areas.
It makes you wonder, especially after one’s own acquaintances tell you how beautifully the visits of "varyags" [officers from other divisions] from various staffs ranking from colonel and above take place. However, enough has been said about that too.
What Distinguishes A PMC From The Army?
Prigozhin did not say, but I have intel from his fighters, perhaps, we should not be surprised that there are our temporarily absent readers in the PMC. So, according to one former fighter of the 1st Corps of the DPR Popular Militia, who is currently a member of Wagner (in general they categorically do not discuss its existence)), the main difference even from the people’s militia is simply the staggeringly quick reaction of the headquarters to the changing situation. Responsiveness is a very important component, on a par with ammunition supply.
So much has already been said about hourly approvals in the Russian army for airstrikes or the use of artillery, it’s not worth reiterating that. The chain of information flow for PMCs is much shorter, and, therefore, the urgency is preserved. Thus, the shells fly at real targets.
Wagner PMC actions have demonstrated what a motivated (and I would even dub the Wagnerians super-motivated fighters), mobile, prompt, properly provided with weapons and ammunition army can be. Even if they are inferior to the regular army in terms of technical equipment.
And this did not start yesterday. Back in Syria, there were discussions about the times that Wagner stormed the most difficult terrorist strongholds, after which Syrian troops were coming in instead of ours with banners unfurled and to the thunder of fanfares. Did this happen? It did; there's nothing to be ashamed of.
But in this environment, the PMC was building up experience and [trained] commanders of all ranks. And now it is being applied in Ukraine. And here the army commanders, in fact, have a lot to learn, many media have already begun to state that one of the main problems of the Russian command is a total unwillingness to learn and adopt experience of others. But they should be doing that.
In general, the country's leadership and the army would do well to think about a lot of things when looking at the actions of the "private sector." After all, the army is really lagging behind in every aspect, starting with motivation (especially in terms of motivating fighters). For some reason the army command believes that if a soldier is paid 195 thousand rubles, the army acquires all rights to this person and can do whatever it pleases with him.
Wagner recruiting poster Wagner PMC – A Contract With The Motherland (Source: Gosrf.ru)
Actually, it would be nice if the truth were somewhere in the middle. Between the cumbersome, hard to manage and poorly commanded Russian army and the small, Wagner PMC that however works like clockwork.
Today the effectiveness of Wagner has been proven, as well as the fact that direct benefits can be acquired from the company’s operations. However, we shouldn’t hope that the Russian army commanders will take advantage of it. It will be some time before Frunzenskaya Naberezhnaya street [i.e., the Ministry of Defense] understands the need for such actions.
In the meantime, the Wagner PMC fighters will advance, as the leader said, forward and only forward...
Motivation... That’s a great word. Today's Wagner fighters are motivated like no other soldier, not only by freedom, which many receive under amnesty, but also by the prospect of a fairly decent income from foreign contracts in the future. Thus, many today already talk about a desire to continue their military career in the ranks of the PMCs, instead of eking out a dubious existence of a repeat offender.
A difficult choice, isn’t it? A professional army like the Wagner PMC or the Russian army of today? It’s a question of many billions of rubles and human lives.