×

Fri. 8:15 a.m.: Putin orders former Wagner commander to take charge of ‘volunteer units’ in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets Thursday with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, second right, and Chairman of the St. Petersburg regional public organization League for the Protection of the Interests of Veterans of Local Wars and Military Conflicts retired Col. Andrei Troshev in Moscow. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered one of the top commanders of the Wagner military contractor to take charge of “volunteer units” fighting in Ukraine, signaling the Kremlin’s effort to keep using the mercenaries after the death of their chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

In remarks released by the Kremlin today, Putin told Andrei Troshev that his task is to “deal with forming volunteer units that could perform various combat tasks, primarily in the zone of the special military operation” — a term the Kremlin uses for its war in Ukraine.

Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was also present at the meeting late Thursday, a sign that Wagner mercenaries will likely serve under the Defense Ministry’s command. Speaking in a conference call with reporters today, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Troshev now works for the Defense Ministry and referred questions about Wagner’s possible return to Ukraine to the military.

Wagner fighters have had no significant role on the battlefield since they withdrew after capturing the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the war’s longest and bloodiest battle.

The meeting appeared to reflect the Kremlin’s plan to redeploy some Wagner mercenaries to the front line in Ukraine following their brief mutiny in June and Prigozhin’s suspicious death in a plane crash Aug. 23. The private army that once counted tens of thousands of troops is a precious asset the Kremlin wants to exploit.

The June 23-24 rebellion aimed to oust the Russian Defense Ministry’s leadership that Prigozhin blamed for mishandling the war in Ukraine and trying to place Wagner under its control. His mercenaries took over Russia’s southern military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and then rolled toward Moscow before abruptly halting the mutiny.

Putin denounced them as “traitors,” but the Kremlin quickly negotiated a deal ending the uprising in exchange for amnesty from prosecution. The mercenaries were offered a choice to retire from the service, move to Belarus or sign new contracts with the Defense Ministry.

Putin said in July that five days after the mutiny he had a meeting with 35 Wagner commanders, including Prigozhin, and suggested they keep serving under Troshev, who goes by the call sign “Gray Hair,” but Prigozhin refused the offer then.

Troshev, is a retired military officer who has played a leading role in Wagner since its creation in 2014 and faced European Union sanctions over his role in Syria as the group’s executive director.

Wagner mercenaries have played a key role in Moscow’s war in Ukraine, spearheading the capture of Bakhmut in May after months of fierce fighting. Kyiv’s troops are now seeking to reclaim it as part of their summer counteroffensive that has slowly recaptured some of its lands but now faces the prospect of wet and cold weather that could further delay progress.

NEWSLETTER

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *
   

COMMENTS

Starting at $4.85/week.

Subscribe Today