When President Vladimir V. Putin stated lately that the Wagner mercenary group legally “doesn’t 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 revered contained in the nation,” stated a put up on a Twitter account underneath the identify Bogdan Goryunov. “However together 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 possible one. His account had few followers or authentic posts, primarily posting replies to extra standard accounts, and it typically contradicted itself. Days earlier, it had defended the Wagner chief, tweeting in response to stories that he had met with Mr. Putin after the mutiny: “Did Prigozhin lastly acknowledge that it was a giant mistake and he needs to be helpful to the nation once more?”
Greater 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.
However as his battle with the Russian Protection Ministry over the conduct of the battle 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 reap the benefits of 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,” stated Antibot4navalny, a frontrunner of a gaggle of nameless volunteers who monitor trolls, and recognized Mr. Goryunov. “With out Putin, and the funds he gives, Prigozhin is nothing.”
Posts coming from troll accounts are each pro- and anti-Prigozhin, however that additionally could serve the Kremlin’s pursuits, in response to 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 commit outsize consideration to information associated to Mr. Prigozhin’s pursuits, typically steering the dialogue in his favor.
Over the previous 20 years, Mr. Prigozhin has been prepared to undertake a number of the most delicate duties for the Russian state — together with by deploying Wagner mercenaries in Africa and the Center East — in alternate for profitable state contracts and elevated affect.
His aborted mutiny — born out of his ambition to imagine a larger function within the Russian energy hierarchy — has sidelined Mr. Prigozhin, however the instruments he helped develop might nonetheless serve the Russian state’s pursuits, analysts say. Because the rebellion, Russian troll farms have been as energetic as ever, in response to 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 stated. “I might argue that the work of troll factories is as essential as ever for Putin.”
In contrast, 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.
In accordance with Vladimir Yagudayev, who labored for one in every of Mr. Prigozhin’s web sites, Politics As we speak, law enforcement officials searched the corporate’s places of work in St. Petersburg after the mutiny. Days later, Mr. Yagudayev’s supervisor informed him that the entire operation would shut down.
“It was very unhappy,” Mr. Yagudayev stated in an interview, including that he supported Mr. Prigozhin’s political opinions and believed his media corporations made a useful contribution.
“It wasn’t about cash,” he stated. “I used to be placing my soul into it.”
Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.