Russian politician poses with sledgehammer in tribute to Wagner mercenaries
Jan 20 (Reuters) - A senior Russian politician on Friday published a picture of himself clutching a sledgehammer given to him by the Wagner mercenary group, a tool it has adopted as a symbol of vengeance since one was used to murder a Wagner defector last year.
The macabre gift appeared to be a thank you to Sergei Mironov, leader in parliament of the Kremlin-loyal A Just Russia party, for his support for Wagner and its exploits on the battlefields of eastern Ukraine.
Mironov, a former paratrooper, has hailed Wagner, which calls itself a private military company, as "a heroic military formation" after it spearheaded an operation that saw Russian forces this month capture the Ukrainian town of Soledar.
The politician published a picture of himself posing with the sledgehammer on his social media accounts, thanking Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner's founder, for the unusual gift.
The sledgehammer's metal head bore the Wagner logo and was emblazoned with a pile of skulls.
"...This is a useful tool. With its help, we will put a dent in the Nazi ideology that aims to destroy our country," said Mironov, who like many other Russian politicians portrays the war in Ukraine as an existential struggle for Russia's survival against a malevolent West.
Ukraine and the West reject that characterisation, saying their sole aim is to push Russian forces out of Ukraine after they invaded it in February last year.
While the Kremlin says groups like Wagner are free to work abroad, the activities of private military companies inside Russia are technically banned.
Mironov on Tuesday said Wagner's activities should be legalised inside Russia and said his party had drawn up the necessary legislation.
Having previously shunned the spotlight, Wagner founder Prigozhin has assumed a higher profile in recent months, criticising the country's military commanders for what he said were their battlefield failures and expressing views on various political issues.
Prigozhin has spoken of the sledgehammer as a symbol of vengeance to be used against people he regards as traitors.
In November, an unverified video appeared on a social media channel associated with Wagner which showed someone using a sledgehammer to murder a Wagner fighter who had surrendered to Ukrainian forces and said he wanted to fight for them.
Prigozhin initially said the man had died "a dog's death for a dog" but did not claim direct responsibility for the killing on Wagner's behalf and later suggested, without evidence, that foreign forces were behind the murder.
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