Wagner, the Russian private military company, posted a video on Telegram Thursday directly disparaging the Russian Defense Ministry’s claim that regular Russian military forces have participated in the assault on Soledar.
A day after Russia’s Defense Ministry reshuffled the command of its so-called “special military operation,” Wagner’s post doubles down on the assertion by boss Yevgeny Prigozhin that his forces alone are responsible for the Soledar operation.
The video shows two men, faces obscured, wearing fatigues and standing in what looks to be an underground bunker, illuminated by flashlight.
“We are officers of the Airborne Forces, we declare that the Airborne Forces did not take part in the assault on the city of Soledar,” one man says. “The assault on the city of Soledar was carried out only by the forces of PMC Wagner. We were not even sent in that direction.”
Some context: CNN is unable to verify the men’s identity or the veracity of their statement, but the fact that Wagner posted it at all is significant. Which Russian forces are responsible for the assault in eastern Ukraine has become a key point of contention in the machinations of Russia’s power structure.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday that regular Russian forces were operating in and around Soledar, without mentioning Wagner.
Prigozhin, in a statement published on a Wagner Telegram channel Monday, called any claim that non-Wagner forces participated in the Soledar assault “fake information.”
In a visit to his forces near Bakhmut over New Year’s Eve, Prigozhin directly castigated Kremlin bureaucrats.
“Once we conquer our internal bureaucracy and corruption, then we will conquer the Ukrainians and NATO, and then the whole world,” Prigozhin told his fighters in a video posted to Telegram.
Some pro-Kremlin Russian military bloggers have speculated that the Russian Defense Ministry’s announcement of Valery Gerasimov as its new commander was motivated in part by Wagner’s success.
On the ground in Soledar: The Ukrainian military insisted Thursday that the town is still contested, and that its forces were even “conducting counterattacks” in the settlement.
A video posted to Telegram Thursday evening shows forces from Wagner in the town.
The video has been geolocated by CNN to the northern edge of the town, towards Russian-controlled territory.
“The situation in Soledar is still not easy,” a Wagner fighter says in the video. “The enemy does not reveal themselves because of the artillery fire, but it’s obvious that we’ve decimated them.”
CNN’s Josh Pennington contributed reporting to this post.
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