June 23, 2024

Some mercenaries of the Russian Wagner Group have left Belarus and returned to the front in Donetsk Oblast, RBC Ukraine reported on Sept. 27, citing the spokesperson of the Eastern Grouping of Forces, Illia Yevlash.

The spokesperson said that of roughly 8,000 Wagner fighters who were stationed in Belarus, some departed for Africa, and around 500 are returning to Ukraine’s eastern front.

Russia’s Defense Ministry is renegotiating contracts with these mercenaries to serve either as combatants or instructors, Yevlash clarified.

However, he emphasized that Wagner fighters do not pose a “significant threat” since the death of their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

The group’s founder died in a plane crash in Russia’s Tver Oblast on Aug. 23 under mysterious circumstances. Prigozhin’s demise came around two months after he negotiated an end to his brief rebellion against the Kremlin earlier in the summer.

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“These individuals are indeed among the most well-trained among Russian forces, but their presence will not be a game-changer,” Yevlash said.

Although the media have already reported the return of Wagner contractors to Ukraine’s battlefields, this is the first official confirmation of their presence by the Ukrainian military.

Wagner fighters were a crucial component in the Russian invasion forces. They were primarily responsible for capturing the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast in May after a protracted siege.

Following their insurrection against the Russian government in June, many of the Wagner Group fighters left for Belarus to provide training support to the Belarusian military.

Both Ukraine and the U.S. later said that the mercenaries were no longer taking part in hostilities in Ukraine.

However, reports emerged following Prigozhin’s death that Wagner contractors began leaving Belarus for Russia. Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko denied this information.

Read also: ‎This Week in Ukraine: Wagner’s mutiny attempt in Russia, and its consequences on Apple Podcasts

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