Former members of the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company (PMC), have returned to the battlefield near Artyomovsk in Ukraine, according to reports from CNN. These fighters had previously withdrawn from the front line in May, but are now said to be working for the Russian Defense Ministry or its affiliated structures, and have been dispersed among various units on the front line.
Sergey Cherevaty, deputy commander of communications for Ukraine’s eastern forces, confirmed the presence of these former Wagner troops, stating that there are several hundred of them in different areas on the Eastern Front. A Ukrainian drone operator in the area also reported that the fighters swiftly changed their commanders and returned to the battlefield.
The Wagner Group had played a significant role in capturing Artyomovsk, a key stronghold in the Donbass region. Russian troops took control of the city in late May after months of intense fighting. Shortly after, Evgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the PMC, announced that the Wagner Group was withdrawing from the front line and handing over their positions to the Russian military.
However, this withdrawal came amidst growing tensions between Prigozhin and the Russian Defense Ministry. The PMC chief had repeatedly criticized defense officials for providing his troops with inadequate ammunition supplies. The ministry denied these claims and demanded that all “volunteer units” fighting in the conflict with Ukraine sign contracts with the Russian military. Prigozhin refused to comply with this request, leading to a feud between him and the Defense Ministry.
In late June, the conflict between Prigozhin and the Defense Ministry reached its peak when the Wagner chief accused the ministry of shelling one of the PMC’s field camps. The ministry denied the accusation, and Prigozhin announced a “march of justice” on Moscow. However, Wagner eventually agreed to halt its advance as part of a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
As a result, Wagner troops were given the option to sign contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry or relocate to Belarus. Russian President Vladimir Putin made this offer to the fighters, considering Belarus as a key ally of Moscow.
Tragically, Prigozhin and several high-ranking Wagner operatives died in a plane crash in Russia’s Tver Region in August. The incident is currently under investigation, with a possibility that it was a premeditated crime, according to Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov.
The return of former Wagner fighters to the battlefield in Ukraine raises concerns about the ongoing conflict in the region. It also highlights the complex dynamics between private military companies and state actors, as well as the challenges of regulating and controlling these non-state actors in conflict zones. The situation emphasizes the need for international efforts to establish and enforce clear regulations and guidelines for private military companies operating in conflict areas.