Moscow is moving Wagner mercenaries from Syria and Africa to Ukraine

Media reports from around the world have indicated that more than 1,000 mercenaries from Russia’s infamous private military company Wagner have been transferred from Africa and Syria to Ukraine after the Russian military was defeated and suffered devastating losses in the initial phase of its invasion of Ukraine.

Since the beginning of their invasion of Ukraine, it is estimated that the Russian army has lost 20,000 troops and 3,500 pieces of heavy equipment in Ukraine. The fierce resistance put up by the Ukrainians inflicted huge losses on Moscow’s previously much-vaunted military. These were so severe that Russia has been forced to hastily cobble together resources to continue its brutal invasion.

The transfer of mercenaries from Wagner to Ukraine is indicative of the critical state of affairs in the Russian military. Although the Kremlin denies any link between Wagner and the Russian Armed Forces, it is widely believed that the battle-hardened mercenaries will be tasked with training Russia’s raw conscripts to improve their combat ability, which has been, up to now, vastly inferior to their Ukrainian counterparts.

Putin appears to be shifting his tactics and is now trying to turn Ukraine into a “second Syria,” by attracting mercenaries who served in the Syrian Civil War and the 1990s Chechen wars. They have extensive experience with urban combat conditions and are most likely being deployed to areas where house-to-house fighting will be the order of battle.

According to the latest intelligence, mercenaries from Wagner are already active in the Donbas region. The group first came into the public spotlight during the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. At that time, its troops were able to be passed off more plausibly than Russian soldiers as Ukrainian-born separatist fighters. Since then, media reports have revealed that this “private military contractor” has operated in Syria, Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic, usually to prop up dictators favored by Vladimir Putin.

Although in theory a private company, Wagner is widely seen as acting as a proxy for the Russian state and is believed to be financed by Kremlin insider Yevgeny Prigozhin. 

By using soldiers-for-hire the Kremlin can, as they did with Syria, claim they have no relationship with the company, thereby divorcing itself from any of the war crimes that may be committed by any of Wagner’s personnel. Their actions will, of course, also be disowned by the regular army. 

Wagner has been accused of human rights abuses in many countries, including Syria, Libya, Sudan, Mozambique and the Central African Republic. In relocating troops from these countries, Wagner will inevitably be weakening Russia’s military presence and chain of command in these countries as Wagner is likely to sustain heavy losses in Ukraine, where they are universally hated by the Ukrainian armed forces.

Speaking to the UN’s Human Rights Council US diplomat Sarah Creedon said in Geneva earlier this month that Wagner’s involvement in Ukraine meant “abusive military operations will likely mount and civilians will suffer”; remarks that were made before the chilling horrors of the Bucha massacres were revealed to the world. 

We have seen during the first two months of the war that Russia does not care about the death of its regular army troops. The lives of paid Wagner mercenaries are even more expendable. In trying to reinvigorate his military campaign in Ukraine, it looks as though Putin is prepared to throw yet more cannon fodder into his battles. 

It is absolutely essential that Ukraine’s international allies donate, in the shortest time possible, the best military equipment needed in order to guarantee Ukraine’s success on the battlefield. Sanctions must also be ramped up against Russia to the highest possible level to starve the Russian economy’s ability to finance its unprovoked war against the people of Ukraine.  

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