An important base for the skilled but sketchy Wagner Group, the private paramilitary helping Vladimir Putin wage war in Ukraine, has been struck, according to sources from both the Ukrainian and Russian sides.
It is unclear how many fighters were injured or killed in the attack, thought to have been carried out over the weekend using a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, which is made for the U.S. military and has been donated to Ukraine.
“There is no more Wagner HQ in Popasna,” Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Honcharenko wrote on Facebook, referring to the location of the camp in the Luhansk region of Russian-controlled Ukraine. “Thank you, HIMARS and the Armed Forces of Ukraine!”
The Kremlin does not confirm the existence of the group, or its role as defined by Western intelligence sources, who say most of the fighters are recruited from Russian prisons. Some reports suggest that convicted murderers are being pardoned in exchange for six months of combat in Ukraine.
The first news of the base camp location came on Aug. 8, when Russian propagandist war correspondent Sergei Sreda visited the site and posted selfies with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch famously known as “Putin’s Chef” who manages the elite paramilitary killers.
A few days ago, the Grey Zone (RSOTM) Telegram channel posted photos of a visit to the so-called Wagner HQ in the Donbas (Popasna). Prigozhin may have been there.
The photos were apparently easy to geolocate. Ukraine destroyed it in a HIMARS strike today. https://t.co/dZCh3oqhpH pic.twitter.com/ejkCLDRlrX
— Aric Toler (@AricToler) August 14, 2022
Some reports Monday suggested that Prigozhin has not been heard from since he was spotted at the camp, but the suggestion that he was killed in the attack remains just a glimmer of hope by the Ukrainians.
The photos posted by Sreda were undoubtedly meant to show a flex of Russia’s muscles, as reports of widespread casualties continue to counter Russian propaganda on the progress of the war. But instead, they inadvertently exposed key geo-markers, including a bomb shelter that Ukrainian forces recognized. The images were quickly removed from Telegram, but not before Ukrainian techies geolocated them with enough precision to launch the deadly attack.
Several Russian Telegram channels confirmed the hit on Sunday, though details were vague about the true damage to the unit. Wagner fighters have been active in Crimea and the Donbas region since 2014, and have been deployed to back Putin allies and Russian interests in Syria, Libya, Mali, as well as the Central African Republic.