When President Vladimir V. Putin mentioned lately that the Wagner mercenary group legally “does not exist,” a set of social media accounts which have traditionally been related to Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the group’s founder, shortly endorsed the Russian chief’s assertion.
“Prigozhin was respected inside the country,” said a submit on a Twitter account below the title Bogdan Goryunov. “But with his single act, he has forfeited all that respect,” he added, referring to the Wagner chief’s aborted mutiny final month. “What remains of Wagner is nothing now, just a memory.”
A bunch of volunteers who monitor Twitter for trolls recognized Mr. Goryunov as a possible one. His account had few followers or unique posts, primarily posting replies to extra common accounts, and it typically contradicted itself. Days earlier, it had defended the Wagner chief, tweeting in response to reviews that he had met with Mr. Putin after the mutiny: “Did Prigozhin finally recognize that it was a big mistake and he wants to be useful to the country again?”
More than a decade in the past, Mr. Prigozhin turned a pioneer at midnight arts of web trolling, launching so-called troll farms to form narratives in Russia and past, together with by sowing pro-Trump discord in the course of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But as his battle with the Russian Defense Ministry over the conduct of the struggle in Ukraine deepened in latest months, some social media accounts, labeled trolls by activists, additionally turned in opposition to Mr. Prigozhin himself.
The change means that lots of the instruments that Mr. Prigozhin operated don’t particularly serve him — they serve the Kremlin. It additionally exhibits that the Russian state, which moved shortly to take down different components of Mr. Prigozhin’s information media empire, could 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. “Without Putin, and the finances he provides, Prigozhin is nothing.”
Posts coming from troll accounts are each pro- and anti-Prigozhin, however that additionally could serve the Kremlin’s pursuits, based on Antibot4navalny, by permitting an outlet for individuals who assist the Wagner chief’s views, together with his harsh criticism of the Russian navy management. What is evident, the group says, is that the trolls dedicate outsize attention to information associated to Mr. Prigozhin’s pursuits, typically 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 Middle East — in change for profitable state contracts and elevated affect.
His aborted mutiny — born out of his ambition to imagine a larger 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. Since the rebellion, Russian troll farms have been as lively as ever, based on Darren Linvill, who research trolls and social media disinformation at Clemson University in South Carolina.
“I think it would be a priority for the Russian government, especially right now when there are so many threats to Putin’s power,” Mr. Linvill mentioned. “I would argue that the work of troll factories is as important as ever for Putin.”
By distinction, the Russian authorities moved shortly to take down Mr. Prigozhin’s media firm, a set of crudely designed information web sites that by no means matched the attain of the higher financed Russian state-run media.
According to Vladimir Yagudayev, who labored for one among Mr. Prigozhin’s web sites, Politics Today, cops searched the corporate’s places of work in St. Petersburg after the mutiny. Days later, Mr. Yagudayev’s supervisor advised him that the entire operation would shut down.
“It was very sad,” Mr. Yagudayev mentioned in an interview, including that he supported Mr. Prigozhin’s political beliefs and believed his media firms made a precious contribution.
“It wasn’t about money,” he mentioned. “I was putting my soul into it.”
Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.