When President Vladimir V. Putin mentioned lately that the Wagner mercenary group legally “doesn’t exist,” a group of social media accounts which have traditionally been related to Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the group’s founder, rapidly endorsed the Russian chief’s assertion.
“Prigozhin was revered contained in the nation,” mentioned a submit on a Twitter account underneath the title Bogdan Goryunov. “However along with his single act, he has forfeited all that respect,” he added, referring to the Wagner chief’s aborted mutiny final month. “What stays of Wagner is nothing now, only a reminiscence.”
A gaggle of volunteers who monitor Twitter for trolls recognized Mr. Goryunov as a probable one. His account had few followers or authentic posts, primarily posting replies to extra widespread accounts, and it generally contradicted itself. Days earlier, it had defended the Wagner chief, tweeting in response to experiences that he had met with Mr. Putin after the mutiny: “Did Prigozhin lastly acknowledge that it was an enormous mistake and he needs to be helpful to the nation once more?”
Greater than a decade in the past, Mr. Prigozhin grew to become a pioneer at nighttime arts of web trolling, launching so-called troll farms to form narratives in Russia and past, together with by sowing pro-Trump discord throughout the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
However as his battle with the Russian Protection Ministry over the conduct of the warfare in Ukraine deepened in current months, some social media accounts, labeled trolls by activists, additionally turned in opposition to Mr. Prigozhin himself.
The change means that most of the instruments that Mr. Prigozhin operated don’t particularly serve him — they serve the Kremlin. It additionally reveals that the Russian state, which moved rapidly to take down different elements of Mr. Prigozhin’s information media empire, might search to benefit from the troll farms, whose posts have typically mirrored how the Kremlin needs to steer the general public narrative in Russia.
“Prigozhin is Putin’s instrument,” mentioned Antibot4navalny, a frontrunner of a group of nameless volunteers who monitor trolls, and recognized Mr. Goryunov. “With out Putin, and the funds he offers, Prigozhin is nothing.”
Posts coming from troll accounts are each pro- and anti-Prigozhin, however that additionally might serve the Kremlin’s pursuits, in accordance with Antibot4navalny, by permitting an outlet for individuals who assist the Wagner chief’s views, together with his harsh criticism of the Russian army management. What is evident, the group says, is that the trolls dedicate outsize consideration to information associated to Mr. Prigozhin’s pursuits, generally steering the dialogue in his favor.
Over the previous twenty years, Mr. Prigozhin has been prepared to undertake a few of the most delicate duties for the Russian state — together with by deploying Wagner mercenaries in Africa and the Center East — in change for profitable state contracts and elevated affect.
His aborted mutiny — born out of his ambition to imagine a higher position within the Russian energy hierarchy — has sidelined Mr. Prigozhin, however the instruments he helped develop may nonetheless serve the Russian state’s pursuits, analysts say. For the reason that rebellion, Russian troll farms have been as lively as ever, in accordance with Darren Linvill, who research trolls and social media disinformation at Clemson College in South Carolina.
“I feel it might be a precedence for the Russian authorities, particularly proper now when there are such a lot of threats to Putin’s energy,” Mr. Linvill mentioned. “I’d argue that the work of troll factories is as necessary as ever for Putin.”
In contrast, the Russian authorities moved rapidly to take down Mr. Prigozhin’s media firm, a group of crudely designed information web sites that by no means matched the attain of the higher financed Russian state-run media.
Based on Vladimir Yagudayev, who labored for considered one of Mr. Prigozhin’s web sites, Politics At present, cops searched the corporate’s places of work in St. Petersburg after the mutiny. Days later, Mr. Yagudayev’s supervisor instructed him that the entire operation would shut down.
“It was very unhappy,” Mr. Yagudayev mentioned in an interview, including that he supported Mr. Prigozhin’s political beliefs and believed his media firms made a priceless contribution.
“It wasn’t about cash,” he mentioned. “I used to be placing my soul into it.”
Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.