LVIV (Ukraine) -- According to a cache of Pentagon documents that have been leaked online, the Russian Navy is in a stalemate, lacking men and equipment, and has run out of steam. One group of Russian fighters is an exception.
According to the documents, the mercenary organization Wagner, which is known for its combat skills, former prisoners in its army, and the murder of a perceived traitor using a sledgehammer, remains a powerful force, having an impact not only in Ukraine but all over the world. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is working to determine the source of the leak, according to senior U.S. officials. The officers confirmed that the documents looked like real intelligence and operational briefs that were compiled by Pentagon's Joint Employees using stories from federal government's Intelligence group. However, at least one of the documents had been altered at a later stage.
According to a confidential document, Wagner emissaries secretly met with "Turkish contacts" in February and slipped onto NATO territory in search of weapons and tools.
It's not clear if the Turkish authorities were aware of the problem or if the weapons had been modified. The officers of the government of President Recep T. Tayyip Erdoan didn't immediately comment on the revelation.
Wagner's cowboy-like nature is highlighted by the audacity of his outreach. This was done even as NATO as a whole was deeply involved in providing Ukraine with weapons and equipment. The fact that its supply networks reach beyond Russian territory also demonstrates its apparent autonomy from the Russian military institution. In the document describing the meeting in Turkey, it was suggested that Mali, a West African country where Wagner has established a major outpost and a large military base, could act as a proxy to purchase weapons from Turkey for Wagner.
Mali's use as a fig-leaf for an arms smuggling scheme shows how influential Wagner is. It first set up a presence there a few years ago, and worked to provide security for a military junta which took over the country in 2021. Another document, citing an employee of Wagner, stated that there were more than 1,645 Wagner staff in Mali. The document said this had caused safety concerns in the neighboring Ivory Coast.
The weapons scheme also reveals just how much more Wagner will now pay for his offers, an indication of the Western sanctions against Russia having begun to bite.
Candace Rondeaux is a Wagner expert and senior director of New America in Washington. Going further afield indicates that U.S. sanctions and European sanctions have begun to impact the pipeline.
Wagner was little known before the Ukraine war. Wagner's origins were obscure, and although mercenary groups with that name had been seen on the battlefields in Syria and Libya there was some debate about whether Wagner was real or merely the product of Kremlin propaganda.
In September, Yevgeny Prgozhin, a close confidant and businessman of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin who served as a caterer at important Kremlin events, acknowledged that he created Wagner.
Since then, Mr. Prigozhin is an indisputable -- and menacing - fixture of the conflict, wearing a helmet and body armor to visit his troops at the front line, whereas calling on the firing (or worse!) of navy leaders that have refused to follow his cavalier example. In one of the most disturbing incidents of the conflict, Prigozhin endorsed the execution of a Wagner soldier who defected from the Ukrainian side but was sent back in a prisoner exchange.
One leaked Pentagon document estimated that he had created a military of Russian prisoners and used weapons which were about 22,000 strong in the area around Bakhmut - probably bigger than the entire Ukrainian contingent along that front.
Prigozhin, who has criticized Russia’s navy management and demanded that generals who fail to perform must be stripped of their rank, as well as forced to march barefoot into the entrance, seems to have complied with Wagner’s request in response to leaked documents.
In response to a C.I.A. report, after Mr. Prigozhin accused the Russian Navy of not providing his troops with sufficient ammunition in late February, officers of the Protection Ministry, who were not named, appeared to be in damage control mode. They acknowledged that Mr. Prigozhin’s claims may be true, and proposed to double the amount of munitions provided to Wagner forces. doc.
The ministry responded to Mr. Prigozhin in a public way that was unusual, but it did not show any sign of capitulation. The ministry stated that they gave 'priority attention to the provision for all volunteers and combatants in assault models', and provided a detailed account of the number of shells supplied over a 3-day period in late February.
The American intelligence agency has infiltrated the Russian Navy and Wagner.
Documents show that American spies gathered alerts from Prigozhin's associates. This allowed them to see the inner workings of Wagner’s operation. Documents show that American intelligence operatives listened to Prigozhin associates in February as they planned to recruit more prisoners into Wagner's ranks.
American intelligence officers also picked up on the fact that Mr. Prigozhin wanted prisoners returning home from the battlefield to help in his recruitment efforts.