Wagner Fighters Are Back in Ukraine
Ukraine Officials Update Politico on 'Misfortune Soldiers'
Kyiv, Ukraine — Ukrainian reconnaissance and wiretaps have revealed the return of Yevgeny Prigozhin's Russian mercenary group Wagner to the front line in Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian military official told Politico on Wednesday.
Colonel Serhiy Cherevatyi, deputy commander of Ukraine’s eastern group of troops for strategic communications, told Politico reporters that several hundred fighters from Wagner, which was ruled by the now-deceased warlord Prigozhin, have been spotted fighting in the ranks of different Russian military units on the eastern front.
Wagner had been fighting in Ukraine until May when it occupied the remains of Bakhmut, a Donetsk region town that had been razed during nine months of brutal fighting. The mercenary group was notorious for its merciless treatment of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.
Cherevatyi told reporters that, after Wagner was thrown into disarray following an aborted insurrection against the Kremlin in June, many of its troops were either welcomed to Belarus by its ruler Alexander Lukashenko or deployed to African countries where Russia has interests.
"Wagnerites were not hiding. Maybe they thought it would scare our soldiers. That showed Russia needs new meat for the grinder," Cherevatyi said. "Wagner as an organization was finished in Bakhmut. Now their more fortunate soldiers are sent to Africa, where there’s more money. The less fortunate ones are back to Ukraine."
He added that Ukrainian wiretapping and reconnaissance had been used to confirm that former Wagner forces were back on the Donbas battlefield. The Ukraine National Resistance Center previously reported that fewer than 1,000 Wagner mercenaries remained in Belarus as of September.
CNN also reported that Wagner fighters are back in Ukraine, citing Ukrainian soldiers fighting around Bakhmut. Wagner's Telegram channels have been quiet in Ukraine, currently posting news from Belarus, Niger, and Mali.
Cherevatyi said that the return of the Wagner forces is not particularly concerning:
"I see nothing special in their return. Wagner is no longer a powerful force. Those who returned are far from being in a good fighting mood, as they know what to expect here," he told reporters.
"They used to call themselves soldiers of fortune but now they are more like misfortune soldiers," he said.
The return of Wagner forces to Ukraine comes as the country continues to battle Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.
The conflict has been ongoing in different episodes since 2014 and has killed over 13,000 people, according to the United Nations.