Ukrainian rockets take out secret Wagner HQ after Russian TV ‘blunder’

Istanbul: Ukraine used US-supplied Himars rocket system to destroy the military headquarters of Russian private military contractor, Wagner, after a Russian state TV reporter seemed to have given away its location by posting photos online.

A Ukrainian official yesterday confirmed Russian media reports that the base in Popasna in eastern Ukraine was targeted by a Ukrainian missile strike, with some estimating that as many as 100 fighters were killed.

A HIMARS launch from a truck.Credit:AP

Officials did not comment on rumours that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner group known as “Putin’s chef”, had also been killed in the strike.

Prigozhin also owns the company that ran the St Petersburg-based troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, which interfered in a number of elections, including the US presidential election of 2016.

Speculation about Prigozhin’s death was fuelled on Sunday by a Donetsk rebel official who quoted a friend saying he was missing.

Footage and videos from the scene showed a bombed-out residential building that was apparently used by the mercenaries that previously deployed in Syria and Mali.

“We’re digging out our guys in Popasna,” one Russian Telegram channel said yesterday in a caption for a photo, right, that showed four men carrying a stretcher with a casualty across scattered debris.

Serhiy Gaiday, Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region in exile, yesterday said he was waiting for the military to provide the official death toll.

The attack came a few days after a pro-Kremlin journalist published several photos from what should be a secret base, writing on his social media: “I arrived in Popasna. Went to Wagner’s HQ. They greeted me like family, told me a few funny stories.”

On top of that, the Russian reporter posted a few photos that gave out the exact location of the base.

In one of them, Russian mercenaries were seen posing next to a building with shattered windows. In the left corner of the frame, the exact address was visible on a plaque near the front door.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner group known as “Putin’s chef”, seen in at left in a photo reportedly taken at the site that was later struck by Ukrainian rockets.Credit:Telegram

In another picture, Prigozhin was seen shaking the hand of a uniformed man.

Several Russian die-hard, pro-war voices yesterday expressed outrage with the Russian state television reporter who was careless enough to post pictures that would make the base easy to locate.

“It’s sad that this missile strike that the enemy was able to launch thanks to a thoughtless publication of the current military positions was not the first time it happened: there’s a long list I can already publish,” Voenny Osvedomitel, one of the most popular pro-Kremlin Telegram channels, said.

The stunning security blunder left some of Russia’s most reputable open-source investigators wondering if this was part of Prigozhin’s elaborate ruse.

“When those photos first surfaced and we discussed them at a planning meeting, I said they look too staged… as if the Russians were trying to invite a strike at that location,” Ruslan Leviev, head of the Conflict Intelligence Team, said.

“Knowing how much Prigozhin likes trolling and how much money he is willing to spend on it, I still have my doubts if this really happened.”

Leviev suggested that Prigozhin may have set out to get the Ukrainian army to hit the base so that they would have anti-missile defence ready to shoot down US-provided Himars missiles.

Unofficial reports claimed that the Kremlin was so rattled by Himars’s firepower that it promised its soldiers the Hero of Russia medal, Russia’s most-coveted military award, for taking out a Himars launcher.

Telegraph, London

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