For some Ukrainian forces, the Wagner Group soldiers were the best-equipped fighters they had seen since Russia invaded last year. For others, it was the training that set them apart. Ukrainian soldiers recalled battlefield stories of aggressive tactics and snipers taking down drones with one shot.
but then short-lived rebellion Led by the group’s leader, Evgeny V. Prigozhin, the organization is uncertain whether Wagner will remain a force on the battlefields where his fate is still in question.
For now, the uncertainty of Wagner’s status should be comforting to Ukrainian soldiers. The Ukrainian front line is likely to stay the same in the short term, but depending on how things unfold in Russia, the Ukrainian army could take advantage of the chaos and demoralization, independent analysts said. List and others are analyzing. American officials.
Still, it’s too early to tell what the long-term implications of the feud between Prigozhin and Russian military officials will be, U.S. officials said. In Bakhmut, Wagner played an outsize role in the Eastern City Capture Operation, one of the major battlefield victories for Moscow of the year, cementing an uneasy alliance with Russian forces, but the city was captured. At that point the partnership was broken.
“Wagner’s previous relationship with the Russian government is probably over,” said Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute. “Even if this did not happen, it is unclear whether Wagner played the same role in this war as he did in the Battle of Bakhmut.”
of Fierce battle in Bahamut A huge number of Russians have been injured or killed in the first few months of the year, according to US officials. In occupying this town this spring, Wagner’s Army Shows Hard Lessons Learned Tactics have improved since last year’s fight, making it much more difficult for Ukraine to build a strong defense.
Wagner’s contracted fighters outsmarted the Ukrainian garrison by using skillful tactics on the ground and throwing captive conscripts into battle after conscript.
But Bahmut was a Pyrrhic victory for Mr. Prigogine.
Although many in the Russian military considered the city of particular importance, the city was not a prize. Ukrainian forces would have occupied the high ground around Bakhmut, deterring Russia from using the city as a base of attack, and potentially capturing Kramatorsk, where Russia next sought to extend its control over eastern Ukraine. So its strategic value has further declined.
Moreover, events during and after Bakhmut’s arrest appear to have facilitated a rift between Prigozhin and the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Prigozhin’s forces were able to capture the city center after Russian President Vladimir V. Putin ordered the regular army to strengthen Wagner’s forces to protect the flanks from Ukrainian attacks.
The influx of Russian troops was key to Wagner’s victory and strengthened the military’s importance. But Mr. Prigozhin may have learned another lesson from the support he received from Mr. Putin.
After Mr. Bakhmut’s detention, the Russian Defense Ministry took steps to integrate Mr. Wagner into the wider military, which would reduce Mr. Prigozhin’s power. Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Russia forced all militiamen fighting in Ukraine to sign contracts with the ministry, suggesting that Prigozhin had placed his forces under military control. He said it meant he had no choice but to put it down.
“This is one of the reasons why Prigogine was furious,” said Stanovaya. “Because he realized that he was now leaving Ukraine.”
After that, Mr. Prigozhin became increasingly critical of Russian military units, and US, British and Ukrainian intelligence agencies said Mr. Prigozhin had led his forces in an offensive move to force the transfer of the Ministry of Defense. began to develop information that there is a possibility of That information proved correct on Friday as Wagner’s forces moved to seize a city in southern Russia.
as soon as The rebellion ended the next dayended with the announcement that Mr. Prigozhin called off the march to Moscow and accepted asylum in Belarus.
The Kremlin has announced that Wagnerian soldiers who did not participate in the rebellion will be allowed to enter into contracts with the Ministry of Defense. Those who participated in the convoy will not be prosecuted. This statement suggested that Wagner in its present form no longer existed.
Some of Prigozhin’s mercenary cadres are likely to remain under Russian military control, but how many Wagner soldiers are willing to fight under the ministry’s umbrella remains an open question.
U.S. officials and independent analysts say Ukraine will certainly try to capitalize on the chaos Mr. Prigozhin has caused, but it does not appear to have a defensive gap to exploit immediately.
And Prigozhin’s march did not prevent Russian troops from leaving their positions in southern and eastern Ukraine to defend Moscow on Friday or Saturday, at least according to preliminary analysis, US officials said. As the drama unfolded, the war did not stop, with Russian forces firing more than 50 missiles across Ukraine before dawn on Saturday.
Wagner has become a very important tool of Russian foreign policy, especially in Mali, the Central African Republic, Syria and elsewhere. The group is likely to be reorganized under Defense Ministry control, but it is unclear whether the Kremlin will eliminate the group as a viable combat force.
And Prigogine may still have his next move.