Wagner group mercenaries who were in Belarus signed contracts with the Russian defense ministry and are now back fighting in Ukraine on the eastern front, but do not pose a threat after losing their leader, a Ukrainian military official said on Wednesday.
“Former members of the Wagner private military company are now actually present on the territory of the Eastern Grouping of Forces. They are taking part in the fighting. In particular, they are coming from the territory of Belarus, where they had their camps,” said Ilia Yevlash, Ukrainian spokesperson for forces in the east, as cited by newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda.
Yevlash added: “They are now being disbanded. These servicemen are sent to different units – some of them are sent to Africa, some re-sign contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry and participate [in the war] in various positions, including instructors. Some go to regular combat units.”
The Ukrainian military spokesman stressed that the Wagner fighters “do not pose such a threat as they did, for example, a year ago, due to the loss of their main leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.”
Washington-based think tank Institute of Study of War (ISW) said in an assessment that the returning Wagner fighters will not be able to turn the tide in favor of the Russians at the frontlines.
“Disjointed Wagner Group contingents reportedly returning to fight in Ukraine are likely to have a marginal impact on Russian combat capabilities without bringing the full suite of effectiveness Wagner had had as a unitary organization under [former boss] Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s and founder Dmitry Utkin’s leadership,” ISW stated.
The think tank stressed that “Wagner forces are fragmented and are unlikely to organize into a cohesive fighting force or have an impact on Russian combat capabilities if they return to fighting in Ukraine.”