Several hundred members of Russia’s Wagner private mercenary group have returned to eastern Ukraine to fight but are not having a significant impact on the battlefield, a Ukrainian military spokesman has said.
Wagner fighters played an important role in Russia’s capture of the eastern city of Bakhmut in May 2023, after one of the longest and fiercest battles of Moscow’s 19-month war in Ukraine.
They left Bakhmut after the battle and some went to Belarus under a deal that ended a brief mutiny by Wagner in June 2023, during which it took control of a Russian military headquarters and marched on Moscow.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed on Aug 23 when a private jet he was travelling in crashed in unexplained circumstances. Since then, the Kremlin has sought to bring the group under tighter state control.
Russian military bloggers have reported that some Wagner fighters have been returning to Ukraine.
“We have recorded the presence of a maximum of several hundred fighters of the former Wagner PMC [private military company],” said Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukrainian troops in the east.
He said that Wagner fighters were scattered in different places, were not part of a single unit, and had not made a significant impact.
“They do not constitute any integral, systematic, organised force,” said Mr Cherevatyi.
“As they say, game over. These are pathetic remnants, nothing good awaits them here.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said Wagner no longer existed.
“Today there are only former militants of the terrorist group who have scattered in all directions,” he wrote on Twitter.
He said some had gone to Africa, some were dispersed through Russia and some had contracts with the Russian defence ministry and were fighting in the Bakhmut sector.
Reports of their return were intended to drown out news of Ukraine’s recapture of two villages near Bakhmut, he said.