Putin and the Pentagon shed some light on the fate of Wagner’s mercenary group


The location of Russia’s Wagner fighters remained a mystery Friday after the Pentagon said the mercenary force was not participating in the war in Ukraine in any meaningful way, and President Vladimir Putin said they had rejected his suggestion to return to the forehead.

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenaries were not participating in military operations in Ukraine «in any significant capacity,» the Pentagon said in a briefing on Thursday.

Based on his assessment, most of Wagner’s forces are still in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said, but «they don’t really contribute as a significant combat capability anymore.»

Putin, meanwhile, said he had told Wagner’s commanders in a meeting in the Kremlin, just five days after they staged a brief armed mutiny last month, that they could return to serving their country. But on one condition: that he would not be under the leadership of former infiltrator Prigozhin, who masterminded the revolt that rocked the Kremlin.

Speaking to Russia’s influential Kommersant newspaper, he said he offered Wagner’s fighters «various employment options» including returning to combat under the guidance of one of their immediate commanders.

“Many agreed when I said this,” Putin said, according to Kommersant. But Prigozhin, about whom Putin said that he did not see this, refused. Putin did not elaborate on what happened next, or what conclusions, if any, were reached about Wagner’s future.

Putin’s account could not be verified and Wagner officials were not available to discuss details of the meeting.

Still, the interview sheds a rare light on the turmoil inside the Kremlin since the June 24 attempted riot saw its fighters march on moscow without much resistance.

Wagner has been instrumental in Russia’s war in the Ukraine. It is one of the best trained and battle-hardened units at Moscow’s disposal having fought some of the bloodiest fighting on the ground. In May, he captured the eastern city of Bakhmut after months of heavy fighting, handing the Kremlin a rare victory.

But Bakhmut was followed by a tense dispute between Prigozhin and Russia’s military top brass over ammunition supplies, which eventually erupted into a full-blown mutiny.

Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks inside the headquarters of the Russian South Military District in Rostov-on-Don, Russia
Yevgeny Prigozhin has not been seen in public since his fighters seized the South Russian Military District headquarters in Rostov-on-Don on June 24. @concordgroup_official / Telegram

Probably reluctant to lose Wagner as a strategic asset in Ukraine amid the Kiev counteroffensive, the Kremlin has sought to separate Prigozhin, whom it has called a traitor, from Wagner’s fighters, who are still, even after the riot, hailed as heroes. for his service in Ukraine for state propaganda.

Although Putin initially accused Wagner of treason, a deal saw Prigozhin abort the revolt. The Kremlin said the mercenary chief would be exiled to Belarus, Russia’s close ally, and those of his mercenaries who did not want to sign contracts with the Russian military would join him there.

However, since then Prigozhin has yet to be seen in public and there has been no clear indication of where Wagner is.

In the interview with Kommersant, Putin said that Wagner’s fighters fought «with dignity» but were drawn into a treacherous mutiny. It was with them that he wanted to meet after the revolt to understand his motivation, Putin added, not so much with Prigozhin himself. The Kremlin revealed for the first time that such a meeting took place on Monday, noting that the mercenaries pledged allegiance to the Russian leader.

In his comments to Kommersant, Putin also said that Wagner does not exist as a legal entity, and that the «difficult question» surrounding its legalization should be discussed by the Russian parliament.

For years, Russia and Prigozhin have denied Wagner’s existence and any connection to the Kremlin despite multiple reports revealing that he was involved in campaigns promoting Russian interests in Syria and several African countries.

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