Videos have emerged on social media that appeared to show infighting among Russia’s elite, with mobilized Russians allegedly complaining about accommodation conditions before being sent to fight in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the pro-Russian Telegram channel Rybar published a video that appeared to show Russian soldiers standing in front of a passenger train. The clip has been geolocated to Russia’s Belgorod region near the Ukraine border.
“We are now in the Belgorod region. There are about 500 of us. Material support, monetary allowance…Absolutely nothing!” the cameraman states, panning the video to his fellow soldiers. The majority have their face covered with masks.
Above, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin shows Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin his school lunch factory outside St. Petersburg on September 20, 2010. Prigozhin is the founder of the Russian mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group.
ALEXEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images
“There is absolutely zero preparation,” he says, while another man in the video adds: “We eat what we buy for ourselves.”
Analyzing the clip, journalists have suggested that the video could be staged by Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Russian mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group, over his dissatisfaction with how the Ukraine war is being handled.
Journalist Mark Krutov of Radio Liberty noted that some men appear to be wearing badges that bear the Wagner Group symbol.
Before Krutov geolocated the clip, he tweeted: “wherever it’s filmed it starts to smell like a staged story now a little bit for me.”
“The video was posted on and being reposted by pro-Wagner channels, which matches Prigozhin’s ‘Fire Shojgu’ narrative…Also some Wagner patches are visible on it. Nearly all ‘poor mobiks’ (mobilized men) on the video wear balaclavas,” Krutov wrote.
“(I think patches are just a kind of Prigozhin’s ‘Easter egg’ here). The guy also makes a weird claim they’ve all (he says 500 people) got COVID on that train,” he added.
Eliot Higgins, the founder of the investigative journalism group Bellingcat, also suggested Prigozhin could be staging clips to underline the Kremlin.
“If Prigozhin is using Wagner to stage videos to undermine [Russian Defense Minister Sergei] Shoigu then Putin really has lost control of the situation,” he tweeted. “Also pretty funny seeing Prigozhin direct his disinformation efforts from the West to Putin and Russia. I suspect a heart attack or a fall out a window could be on the cards.”
Prigozhin, alongside Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, previously criticized the leadership of the Russian army amid Putin’s flagging war.
On Wednesday, the Russian news outlet Gulagu reported that a Wagner fighter shot a Russian army officer shot a top lieutenant in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
“They are trying to hush up a number of incidents at the front. So, in the Donetsk region, a Wagner PMC fighter shot a lieutenant colonel of the Russian army during the conflict. They are trying to hush up the incident and prevent publicity. And this is not the first incident of its kind,” the report said.
Newsweek reached out to Russia’s foreign ministry for comment.