Russia's Wagner fighters have likely returned to Ukraine in pro-Russian units following the group's abandoned coup, it has been reported. In a tweet on Friday, the UK Ministry of Defence said hundreds of former Wagner fighters were thought to have been redeployed in the ongoing conflict - and while their exact status was unclear, many have experience in the city of Bakhmut, currently the scene of heavy fighting.
Putin's meeting with warlord
The news came as Russian president Vladimir Putin on Thursday evening met with a former Wagner commander, now reported to be working for Russia's ministry of defence, who was handed a role overseeing volunteers.
“At the last meeting we talked about you overseeing the formation of volunteer units that can carry out various tasks, first and foremost of course in the zone of the special military operation,” Putin told Andrei Troshev during the meeting, according to comments released by the Kremlin.
“You yourself have been fighting in such a unit for more than a year. You know what it is, how it is done, you know about the issues that need to be resolved in advance so that the combat work goes in the best and most successful way," he added.
Why it matters
It has been several months since the Wagner mercenary group's attempted coup - which saw the group, led by its now-deceased leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, march on Moscow before abandoning their mission under a deal brokered with the help of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Troshev's role will be read as a demonstration by the Kremlin that Putin has fully regained control of the mercenary group following the embarrassment of June's rebellion.
Fighters were given the option of joining the Russian forces or relocating to Belarus following the fallout - with the chaotic Russian forces keen to use the battle-tested mercenaries.
However, while Ukraine confirmed that Wagner fighters had returned to the country, it said they had not joined a specific unit and were having a minimal impact on the ground, France24 reported.
“They do not constitute any integral, systematic, organised force,” said Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern military command. “As they say – game over. These are pathetic remnants, nothing good awaits them here.”
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Tit-for-tat strikes Russia and Ukraine have engaged in more drone strikes. According to Russia's ministry of defence, Kyiv targeted a power station in the village of Belaya, less than 25km from the border.
Moscow, meanwhile, killed five people in the Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Donetsk.
UN secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Ukrainian forces were gaining ground in the counteroffensive, adding: “There is a stark contrast: Ukrainians are fighting for their families, their future, their freedom. Moscow is fighting for imperial delusions.”
Abrams tanks arrive
Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine from the US, although it is unclear how many of the 31-pledged heavy-duty vehicles have been delivered.
Soldiers in eastern Ukraine will be the first to benefit from the tanks' deployment, which marks a huge upgrade from the Soviet battle tanks they are currently using.
First Abrams tanks arrive from US in boost for Kyiv’s counteroffensive (The Independent)