No. Russian officer Girkin did not start the Donbas war in 2014. The “successful maneuvers” carried out by Surovikin this year were all retreats or war crimes, and Prigozhin’s op in eastern Ukraine this year led to the utilization of tens of thousands of Russian robot soldiers (commonly referred to as orcs).
Rinse, repeat. I’ll put the back story in a footnote1.
Putin started the war in early 2014 by annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine. Putin and Russia’s top military brass hired Prigozhin and Girkin (Strelkov) to provide plausible deniability, put boots on the ground and lead fake rebellions in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Some called this hybrid war.
Putin used Girkin’s, Prigozhin’s and Utkin’s unofficial armies to expand Russia’s influence everywhere Putin wanted to2. That Putin later decided to put Girkin in jail and murder Prigozhin and Utkin is unsurprising and besides the point.
WAPO pretends Wagner PMC popped into existence in Ukraine after Russia’s failed attempt to decapitate Kyiv in February 2022. That’s because news presenters at the time had no idea about what they were talking about and their editors played along with Kremlin narratives3.
In May 2014, Prigozhin, Utkin and their comrades created Wagner PMC for specops in eastern Ukraine, mostly Donetsk region, to give Putin a modicum of plausible deniability for the atrocities being committed there. In 2015, Wagner PMC went to Syria and fanned out throughout Africa. Progozhin also ran the Internet Research Agency, the organization that used hacking, leaking, and social media to help elect Donald Trump in 2016. In late 2022, Putin authorized Prigozhin to enlist tens of thousands of incarcerated Russians to help re-invade Ukraine as cannon fodder. At least from 2016 to 2019 (until Z was elected), Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU) published regularly its work (with other western intelligence agencies) to keep tabs on Wagner PMC fighters, especially the ones wanted for war crimes in Ukraine. Some of the links to SBU reports, even a special booklet for journalists reporting on the story, have gone dead, but all the info is still cached somewhere on the Internet. Maybe the SBU will give you a copy. Z in 2020 decided to scupper a joint op by Ukrainian and allied intelligence services to arrest several dozen Wagner PMC fighters and prevaricated publicly about the reasons why.
FCDO Written Submission for FAC Inquiry on the Wagner Group and beyond: proxy Private Military Companies (WGN0025)