By Elita Khmelidze, Eleonora Sobrero, Dmytro Filonenko, Marcin Jerzewski, in collaboration with experts from Information Defense Hub


Joke of the week

  • Policy & Research
  1. New light on the Wagner Group
  2. Dealing with a lack of fighters
  • U.S. Developments
  1. The US authorizes largest-yet military package to Ukraine
  2. The economic impact of sanctions on Russia
  • Kremlin’s Narratives in Western Societies
  1. The collapse of United Kingdom due to accumulated problems and the war in Ukraine
  2. The lack of money for Ukrainian soldiers
  • Russian Propaganda in Ukraine
  1. “Fragments of American GMLRS missiles were discovered in Energodar”
  2. “American HIMARS destroyed in the battles near Kharkiv”

Policy & Research

New light on the Wagner Group

Private military companies (PMCs) are officially illegal in Russia, but despite considerable efforts to keep them in the shadows, the Wagner Security Group’s ties to the Kremlin have been demonstrated before through its backer, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a man close to Putin. With the war in Ukraine, the strategy changed: billboards began appearing around Russian cities to recruit new fighters for the war, publicly identifying the organization as an extension of the Russian military.

Since its establishment in 2014 by intelligence officer Dmitry Utkin to support separatists in the Donbas, the company never formally existed on paper and its name was taboo, which also meant that personnel information was unavailable, even to the families of fighters who died in the field. This changed after the company’s involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine entered the public sphere in Russia with state news reports indirectly mentioning their involvement on the battlefield, referring to it as an “orchestra” alluding to the homonymous German composer.

According to the Guardian’s investigation, joining the group requires a passport not from a NATO country or Ukraine and good medical conditions; the entire procedure takes place on WhatsApp or Telegram, contacting the recruiter numbers on the posters. This extended and simplified recruitment process to find fighters for Russia could betray the real conditions of the Russian armed forces, especially because of the money offered to those who enlist, which comes to several times the salary of regular soldiers.

Dealing with a lack of fighters

The Kremlin cannot afford to resort to mass recruitment because it would make President Putin unpopular, and to cope with the troop shortage in Ukraine it is resorting to the covert method of offering amnesty to its prisoners in exchange for their volunteering as fighters. The Wagner Group‘s involvement in prisoner recruitment is again speculated and not independently verifiable, but it aligns with British intelligence information. The case refers specifically to a penal colony in St. Petersburg, where men in uniform made the offer to 11 detained prisoners.

This information is followed by the report about Russian soldiers “refusing to fight and trying to leave the army,” forcing the government to find alternatives. Although the Defense Ministry denies it, billboards and mobile recruitment centers have appeared throughout Russia, accompanied by campaigns on state television and job ads on websites for military specialists, to find volunteers to enlist on the front lines. The goal is the formation of “volunteer battalions” motivated by “lucrative cash bonuses,” according to the British military, while unverifiable reports claim that these financial promises have so far not been fulfilled. 

Human rights groups and lawyers report on the growing number of troops refusing to fight and the repercussions suffered by those who have terminated their contracts with the Ministry of Defense and have managed or are attempting to return home from Ukraine.

U.S. Developments

The US authorizes largest-yet military package to Ukraine

The United States authorized its largest military aid to Ukraine which is worth $ 1 billion. Specifically, the package contains ammunition for artillery rocket systems, munitions for surface-to-air missile systems, explosives, armored vehicle missiles, and medical supplies. The upcoming military aid package, which is the US 18th such tranche, brings US commitment to about $9.8 billion since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In particular, the aid package includes ammunitions for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems or HIMARS, 75,000 rounds of 155 mm artillery ammunition, 20 120 mm mortar systems, and 20, 000 rounds of 120mm mortar ammunition as well as munitions for National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems or NASAMS. 

It is noteworthy that the US is not sending HIMARS in this latest package, but only the ammunition for the system. Furthermore, the package encompasses 1,000 Javelins, hundreds of AT4anti-armor systems, 50 armored medical treatment vehicles, anti-personnel munitions, explosives, demolition munitions, and demolition equipment. Meanwhile, US grant worth $ 4,5 billion will contribute to sustaining Ukraine’s government’s administrative and service delivery capacity to exercise core functions.

The economic impact of sanctions on Russia

Wednesday on 10 August Professors Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Steven Tian from the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute presented the research concerning the devastating impact of economic sanctions and voluntary business retreats have had on Russia’s economy. As the Professors stated, all the bordering nations of Russia are not only doing less trade with Russia, but they are the beneficiaries of net capital inflows as well as talent capital inflows.

There are hundreds of thousands of highly trained Russian tech workers flocking to these countries. Another issue deals with the Russian ruble. Contrary to Putin’s propaganda emphasizing the strength of the Russian ruble, in reality, it is an artificial exchange rate created by capital controls.

Besides, the Russian trading volume has plummeted across the ruble showing the existence of a heavy premium being paid on the black market. It is also noteworthy that Russian industrial production has fallen across every sector at dramatic levels, in some cases by 50 % and 60%. Furthermore, since the invasion of Ukraine over 1,000 companies voluntarily curtailed operations in Russia.

Kremlin’s Narratives in Western Societies

The collapse of United Kingdom due to accumulated problems and the war in Ukraine

“Welcome to modern Britain, where nothing works, everything costs expensive and we are all too busy arguing about the causes of our troubles to find any solutions,” reports The Telegraph. Such a difficult economic situation has developed in Britain due to the conflict in Ukraine, anti-Russian sanctions, high inflation, the disruption of supply chains caused by the epidemic, and the retreat of globalization. In addition, Britain is faced with the problem of an aging population, increasing the burden on its financial system, informs RIA Novosti based on The Telegraph.

The Telegraph informs that the state ceases to function normally especially in cases of economics and natural disasters threats. Author believes that due to the constant increase in the projected marginal price of electricity for the average household the poor strata of the population will not be able to cope with such expenses at all. Based on the source, RIA Novosti is trying to promote the role of war in Ukraine as significant in terms of the difficult internal situation in United Kingdom.

The lack of money for Ukrainian soldiers

The Wall Street Journal reports, the Ukrainian finance minister is fighting against the yawning gap between the cost of the war and depressed tax revenues in an economy battered by the invasion. Ukraine’s supporters from the European Union are sending promised financial help only slowly. That is why Kyiv is having difficulty finding funds to pay salaries to the military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This is reported by CSN-TV  based on The Wall Street Journal.

According to the authors of the publication, the state budget of Ukraine was approximately balanced before the start of the crisis in the country, but at present, military spending alone accounts for more than 60% of the budget. “In order to make up the difference, pay military salaries and buy Western weapons, the Central Bank of Ukraine must print money, which weakens the national currency and spurs inflation,” author writes. The Wall Street Journal emphasizes that now Kyiv needs at least five billion dollars a month to cover non-military expenses.

Russian propaganda in Ukraine

“Fragments of American GMLRS missiles were discovered in Energodar”

Russian propaganda prepares the ground for provocations at nuclear facilities in Ukraine. In particular, on August 12, the spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova said that “Western curators do not need the truth about the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant and the real threats to the nuclear safety of this facility. At the same time, Russia calls on the West to “put in place its wards from Ukraine and not to obstruct the IAEA mission at the plant”.

In turn, Russian propaganda media stated that “fragments of American high-precision GMLRS missiles launched by the Armed Forces of Ukraine towards the Zaporizhzhia NPP were discovered in Energodar.” The Center for Countering Disinformation of the NSDC of Ukraine called it a fake.

Systematic provocative shelling by the occupiers of the territory near the Zaporizhzhia NPP has been going on for a few weeks, creating a threat of man-made disaster.

Russian propaganda and politicians close to the Kremlin repeat the thesis that “Kiev and its Western patrons want to arrange a new Chernobyl.” This is a sign of the Kremlin’s implementation of a strategy of pressure on Ukraine and the EU through systematic nuclear blackmail to achieve territorial concessions and a reduction in military aid.

“American HIMARS destroyed in the battles near Kharkiv”

Russian propaganda is trying to demonstrate “successes of the Russian army,” spreading fake photos and videos of destroyed Western weapons. In particular, propagandists disseminated the materials depicting broken military equipment. They are signed as “American HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems destroyed in the battles near Kharkiv.” Pictures of “destroyed HIMARS” began to circulate on social networks and pro-Russian media against the background of the appropriate statement by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who reported on the “successful destruction of six HIMARS launchers and over 200 missiles”. 

The “photos and video evidence of the destroyed Ukrainian HIMARS” cited by the Russian side do not correspond to reality. It is worth noting that the above photos have been circulating in pro-Russian groups on social networks for about a month. Pro-Kremlin media began to use the image of the “destroyed HIMARS” back in July. In August, Kremlin media released the same photos and videos, only changing the location. 

Russia regularly claims the destruction of almost all HIMARS systems provided to Ukraine. However, Moscow does not publish evidence of this. Todd Breasseale, the Pentagon’s acting spokesman, said, “we are aware of these latest claims by Minister Shoigu, and they are again patently false.”

By Elita Khmelidze, Eleonora Sobrero, Dmytro Filonenko, Marcin Jerzewski, in collaboration with experts from Information Defense Hub