VIDEO | Andonovic: The Russians are establishing a new private army - "Wagner" and Prigozhin "let go"?
Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov has recruited the former commander of the private military company Wagner, which operates in Africa, to lead his new Russian mercenary formation.
The unit now numbers around 300 soldiers, and is already deployed in parts of southern Ukraine's Kherson region.
- We are talking about Aksyonov's private military company, but the whole group consists of former fighters of "Wagner", one of the mercenaries of the new military formation told "Russia-24" TV.
A short documentary was broadcast on this television showing the mercenaries of the new Russian private army training in martial arts, shooting with heavy and light weapons and laying mines. The Russian opposition media identified the commander of this military formation as Konstantin Pikalov, who worked as the commander of the "Wagner" unit deployed in Madagascar and the Central African Republic.
Aksyonov did not comment on the allegations, but opposition media have described the new military formation as part of the Russian army's reserve forces, as its fighters reportedly signed a contract with both the mercenary unit and the Ministry of Defense.
Wagner's mercenaries have in the past been credited with romanticizing the concept of a daring mercenary in Russia, although most of its fighters are convicted murderers or drug dealers recruited from Russian prisons, according to Britain's Telegraph.
Before attacking Ukraine, the Kremlin kept the Wagner Group out of the limelight, preferring to use it in Africa and the Middle East to support client-dictators, the British newspaper said.
Wagner now openly recruits in Russian cities, its fallen fighters are buried with the highest military honors, and stores in Moscow sell Wagner-branded souvenirs and home furnishings.
But allegations that a new Russian private army is being formed have fueled speculation that perhaps Putin and the generals in the Kremlin want to let Wagner's owner Yevgeny Prigozhin go through the water. In the past period, Prigozhin came into direct conflict several times with the generals of the General Staff of the Russian Army and above all with the Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu. Prigozhin criticized the Russian generals and military commanders for conducting the military operations in Ukraine poorly and unprofessionally for the past year, which is why they were forced to retreat several times from certain areas. After he and his Wagner were given the task of conquering the strategically (un)important Bakhmut, he accused Minister Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov of not providing the Wagner units with the necessary ammunition and war materiel in a timely manner. These accusations were Prigozhin's attempt to justify the disputed advance towards Bakhmut, which, even after several months of bloody fighting, is still under the control of the Ukrainian army.
In the past period, Prigozhin's undisguised ambitions for some kind of higher position in the Kremlin, which he was supposed to get as a result of the work that his Wagner group should do in the war in Ukraine, were widely publicized. It was even speculated that Prigozhin could replace Putin himself, but all that remained only at the level of speculation.
The fact that Prigozhin has shown ambitions for high positions in the political establishment in Moscow, at the very least to be Putin's right-hand man, has fueled speculation that a possible new private military formation should actually slowly reduce the space for Prigozhin to have any key role in this war
Western intelligence agencies estimate that around 10.000 Wagner mercenaries have been killed in the fighting in Ukraine out of an estimated 50.000 deployed.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner's boss, also said that 5.000 former convicted "Wagner" mercenaries, recruited from among convicts who had been in prison, had been pardoned after six months of service at the front.