About 500 Wagner mercenaries who fought alongside Russian troops in Ukraine before fleeing to Belarus after a short-lived mutiny in June have now returned to the front lines to again fight Kyiv’s forces, a Ukrainian Army spokesman said Wednesday.
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash in Russia last month, raising questions about the future of his forces. Some, possibly as many as 6,000, have been in Belarus for three months, while others had been deployed to Africa, where Wagner also has had ongoing operations.
Now, about 500 of the Wagner troops have resumed fighting for Russia in Ukraine, Ilya Yevlash, the spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Grouping of Forces, told Ukrainian broadcaster RBC-Ukraine. He said the Russian Defense Ministry had renegotiated contracts with the returning mercenaries.
“These individuals are indeed among the most well-trained in the Russian army, but they will not become a game-changer,” Yevlash said.
Most of the Wagner forces that had previously fought in Ukraine had taken part in the brief mutiny but moved to Belarus under a deal the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, negotiated with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yevlash said the camps in Belarus are now being disbanded.
The cause of the plane crash that killed Prigozhin and other Wagner leaders has not been determined but many Western officials believe it was Putin’s retribution for the uprising Prigozhin led, a troop movement toward Moscow that he abruptly called off.
In the weeks that followed, Prigozhin met with Putin at the Kremlin and traveled freely in Russia before the plane crash.
Russian accusations against US, Britain
Russia Wednesday accused the United States and Britain of helping Ukraine carry out an attack last week against the headquarters Russian Black Sea fleet in Russia-occupied Crimea.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing that the attack was “planned in advance using Western intelligence means, NATO satellite assets, and reconnaissance planes.”
Zakharova also said U.S. and British intelligence helped coordinate the missile strike.
While the U.S. and other Western partners have provided military equipment and training to Ukraine, U.S. officials have previously denied playing a direct role in Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion.
When Russia accused the United States of being involved in a May drone attack on the Kremlin, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby called the claim ludicrous.
A television channel run by Russia’s Defense Ministry broadcast undated video Wednesday showing Adm. Viktor Sokolov, the leader of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, saying the fleet was performing successfully.
It was the second consecutive day in which video of Sokolov appeared on Russian television, following a Ukrainian claim that he was killed in the Crimea missile strike.
Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.