Russia has put an ex-commander of the Wagner mercenary group in charge of its volunteer units fighting in Ukraine, three months after Wagner members briefly mutinied and amid reports of them reappearing on the battlefield as Kyiv counterattacks.
Russian president Vladimir Putin gave the role to Andrei Troshev, who reportedly did not support a one-day revolt in June during which Wagner units seized the southern Russian city of Rostov and shot down several Russian military aircraft, killing their crews.
Last month, an unexplained plane crash in Russia killed Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and other senior allies who had taken part in a one-day uprising against what they called the incompetence of Russia’s defence chiefs and their conduct of the war in Ukraine.
“At the last meeting, we talked about the fact that you will be involved in the formation of volunteer units that can perform various combat missions, primarily, of course, in the zone of the ‘special military operation,’” Mr Putin said to Mr Troshev, using Russia’s official term for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine that began more than 18 months ago.
“You yourself fought in such a unit for more than a year. You know what it is, how it is done, you know the issues that need to be resolved in timely fashion so that combat work goes on in the best and most successful way,” Mr Putin added, noting that benefits should be “absolutely the same” for Russians fighting in the regular army or militia units.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on whether Wagner fighters had returned to battle, but said Mr Troshev now worked for the defence ministry. Mr Prigozhin had angrily rejected an order for Wagner fighters to sign contracts with the ministry.
Ukraine has played down the reappearance of some Wagner fighters at the front, where the now defunct mercenary group – bolstered by thousands of convicts recruited from Russian jails – led Russia’s capture of the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut in May.
“We have recorded the presence of a maximum of several hundred fighters of the former Wagner group,” said Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi. “These are pathetic remnants, nothing good awaits them here.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said ex-Wagner fighters were being used to fill gaps in fraying Russian lines near Bakhmut, and to divert media coverage away from Ukraine’s recent recapture of two villages near the city.
“Today, there are only former militants of the terrorist group who have scattered in all directions: Africa, civilian and criminal life in the regions of Russia, or a contract with the Russian defence ministry ... plugging the Russian hole in the Bakhmut direction for a short time,” he said, hailing “the liberation of Klishchiivka and Andriivka by the Ukrainian army and the annihilation of the main combat-ready Russian formations in this area”.
Mr Putin signed a decree on Friday approving the conscription of 130,000 Russian men aged between 18-27 to do a year of military service – a routine event that happens twice a year. Moscow says eligible people in four partly occupied eastern regions of Ukraine will be included in the draft for the first time.
Ukrainian drones hit an electricity substation in the Kursk region of Russia, causing what local officials said were blackouts in five settlements, amid almost nightly Russian drone and missile strikes on Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastructure.