Russia is sending battle-hardened Wagner mercenaries to eastern Ukraine as it shifts its focus from encircling Kiev to consolidating its control of the Donbas, Western officials have warned.
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The mercenaries have extensive “combat experience in Syria and Libya”. The New York Times (NYT) reported and is preparing to take an increasingly active role in a phase of war in Ukraine Moscow now says is its top priority“.
The number of mercenaries in the country “is expected to more than triple to at least 1,000 fighters from about 300 a month ago,” the newspaper said, citing a US official. “Wagner is the best known of a number of Russian mercenary groups that have formalized over the years and operate more like Western military contractors.”
Russian troops ‘started withdrawing from Kyiv and Chernihiv in the north’ last night The times reported “as fighting intensified in the separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk to the east.” The Kremlin’s invasion force has “suffered a series of defeats around the capital” in recent days, “most recently losing control of the city of Irpin.”
the British Ministry of Defence said in its latest intelligence update that the Wagner group would be deployed due to “heavy casualties and a largely stalled invasion,” adding that they would be deployed to Ukraine “at the expense of operations in Africa and Syria.”
The group had previously been sent to the capital Kyiv Order for the assassination of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and a bunch of others Key figures of the Ukrainian resistance.
The private militia has “gained military experience in conflicts in the Middle East” and “serves as security advisors to various governments, including in the Central African Republic, Sudan and most recently Mali,” the NYT said.
They are “loosely linked to the Russian military” but “operate remotely, which has enabled the Kremlin to attempt to deflect responsibility whenever fighters’ behavior comes under scrutiny.” In 2021 the European Council sanctioned eight people close to the group, saying Wagner was involved in “destabilizing activities in some of the countries where they operate”.
In 2017, the Trump administration sanctioned Dmitry Utkin, the group’s founder, for his role in recruiting soldiers to join separatist forces in Ukraine. In 2021, a UN report by the NYT found that Wagner mercenaries had killed civilians, looted homes and murdered worshipers in a mosque in Central African Republic.
The group is financed by billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies. Western officials told the Times there were doubts as to whether the group’s “terrifying reputation” was justified, noting that they dug “into a number of holes” during operations in Libya.
An official added that there is a “level of desperation” about Russia’s reliance on mercenaries.
Ally at arm’s length
“Western intelligence services spotted the first small groups of Wagner mercenaries leaving Libya and Syria and arriving in Russian-controlled Crimea in early 2022,” the NYT reported. But their “initial performance on the battlefield was decidedly unfavourable, as they met with stronger than expected resistance by Ukrainian soldiers”.
US officials estimate that as many as 200 Russian mercenaries have been killed on the battlefield since February, with “the original purpose of using the mercenaries” quickly becoming the subject of “debate” in intelligence circles.
“Some European and American officials said the mercenaries were stationed in rebel-held areas to engage in sabotage and false flag operations,” the newspaper added. But Ukrainian officials have said they were sent to “fill the ranks of the separatist forces to make it appear that local fighters are leading the attack.”
Lending credibility to the belief that Wagner was sent to covertly destabilize Ukraine Brookings Institute The think tank has warned that Wagner was deployed in Africa with the intention of “attacking countries that have weak governments but are often rich in key commodities such as oil, gold, diamonds, uranium and manganese”.
While the mercenaries “purport to solve complex local military and terrorist conflicts that African governments are grappling with,” the think tank said, “they also offer those governments the ability to conduct counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations that are not constrained by human rights responsibilities.” are”.
With that, “African governments to be just as brutal in their military efforts as they wish,” she added, while Moscow is looking for “payments in the form of natural resource concessions, significant trade contracts, or access to strategic locations such as air bases or ports.”
Similar stories have surfaced from the Middle East, where Russian mercenaries have been deployed alongside Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.
2017 Turkish Newspaper Yeni Shafak reported that 5,000 “legionnaires associated with Wagner with Russian passports” were operating in Syria. The mercenaries provided “security” in gas- and oil-rich areas “that Russia craves,” the newspaper said.
Geared towards the Middle East New Lines Magazine, mercenaries “have become an important tool for the Kremlin to further its foreign policy goals”. And while they were widespread under Putin, their origins “can be traced back to Soviet times and developed from several decades of military adventurism.”
The Wagner group “applies tactics developed during the Afghan war,” according to the magazine, in the 1980s, when “the Soviet Army deployed so-called Muslim battalions, special forces composed of Muslims from Central Asia whose primary task was to conduct covert operations that… disguised as locals.”
“This technique bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the so-called Little Green Men,” she added, “the soldiers who appeared in Crimea in February 2014 without insignia and helped Russia annex the territory“.
A Sky news Research in 2016 found that mercenaries were paid “the equivalent of £3,000 a month” for their services. This is significantly more than the “$1,100 a month” paid by soldiers contracted with the Russian military and the “less than $25 a month” paid to conscripts, they say The Washington Post.
But the broadcaster also noted that while groups like Wagner are led by veterans, recruits are often “thrown into field battles and firefights” with only minimal training.
One recruit described a deployment in Syria: “Most of the people who go there for the money end up dead. Those who fight for ideals, who fight Americans, American special forces, any ideology – they have a better chance of surviving.
“About 500 to 600 people died there,” added another. “No one will ever know about her. That’s the scariest thing. Nobody will ever know.”
As the invasion of its eastern European neighbor stalled, “social media channels and private newsgroups” have been increasingly “used in Russia to recruit a new brigade of mercenaries to fight alongside the army in Ukraine.” BBC reported.
The news appealed to “people with criminal records, debts, barred from mercenary groups or lacking an outside passport” to apply, the channel added, with a warning as mercenaries: “They recruit anyone and everyone.”
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/world-news/russia/956263/why-is-russia-reliant-on-mercenaries-ukraine Why is Russia so dependent on mercenaries?