After a sighting by a Ukrainian drone operator, details emerge of how the Russian mercenary group has been redeployed in the strategic Ukrainian city of Bakhmut it had helped conquer earlier this year. That was followed by the dramatic coup and departure from Ukraine led by Wagner's now late leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Fighters affiliated with the Wagner Group have once again been spotted on the battlefield near Bakhmut in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region, according to a Ukrainian drone operator. This confirmation supports earlier reports from Russian sources regarding the resurgence of Wagner mercenaries near the strategic city in eastern Ukraine.
“Wagner is here,” the drone operator said, adding that the Wagnerites had “quickly changed commanders and returned.”
The Ukrainian military views the return of Wagner fighters as an attempt to compensate for the shortage of Russian military personnel in this sector of the front, CNN reports. The Russian command is also said to be transferring troops from nearby regions to bolster their presence in Bakhmut.
The "new" Wagner
This marks the first official confirmation of Wagner PMC's reappearance in Ukraine. Prior to this, the Telegram channel “Rybar”, closely linked to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, reported on the presence of mercenaries in the area of Bakhmut.
According to Rybar, fighters who had "broken away" from the PMC after the rebellion led by Yevgeny Prigozhin are slowly returning to eastern Ukraine. These returning fighters are reportedly under the command of Andrei Troshev, and they continue to recruit mercenaries from Belarus and Africa for operations in Ukraine.
Wagner forces no longer function as a unified force
On September 23, the Telegram channel “Gray Zone”, associated with Wagner, stated that a detachment of mercenaries “would now enter Bakhmut.” However, they emphasized that this group comprised those who refused to participate in the rebellion of Wagner’s former leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin in late June. The message thus clarified that this organization was distinct from the Wagner Group.
Earlier reports from September 22 by military blogger Yuriy Kotenok, citing "multiple sources," hinted at the arrival of Wagner assault troops in the Kherson region. Additionally, the Telegram channel "Wagner Orchestra" on September 17 stated that one of the platoons' soldiers had "assembled an independent group" to fight under challenging circumstances.
Analysts at the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) suggest that reports from pro-Russian sources indicate that Wagner PMC forces no longer function as a unified force. Consequently, formations assembled from Wagner fighters may have limited influence on the outcome of military operations.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader Russian mercenary group Wagner, seen for the last time in a video published on a Telegram
During the winter offensive, the taking of Bakhmut marked a significant victory for Russia, and Wagner mercenaries played a pivotal role in the battle. However, with the onset of summer, it became one of the focal points of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, resulting in the Ukrainian Armed Forces gaining control of substantial portion of territory in the region.
The resurgence of Wagner PMC fighters follows the mutiny and subsequent death of Prigozhin. After the rebellion, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the PMC's founder and commanders in the Kremlin, extending an invitation to the Wagnerites to "continue to serve" under the leadership of Andrei Troshev.
However, Prigozhin refused to accept this decision. Soon afterward, a plane carrying Prigozhin and nine others was shot down over Russia's Tver Oblast, killing all on board, including Prigozhin, who was mourned by his former troops as a hero.