Ex-Wagner mercenaries may be heading back to Ukraine, but this time with Russia's National Guard, intel says

Ex-Wagner mercenaries may be heading back to Ukraine, but this time with Russia's National Guard, intel says
  • Russia's national guard is integrating former Wagner Group fighters into a volunteer formation.

  • Britain's defense ministry said Rosgvardia will likely deploy these fighters to Ukraine or Africa.

  • It's the latest effort by Moscow to clamp down on the ruthless mercenary organization.

Former Wagner Group fighters are being absorbed into Russia's national guard and may soon be deployed to Ukraine, according to Western intelligence, as Moscow continues to assume control over the ruthless mercenary organization.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in late-December authorized the country's National Guard, also known as Rosgvardia, to create its own volunteer arrangements. Now, the force is integrating three former Wagner assault detachments into its first Volunteer Corps formation, Britain's defense ministry said in a Thursday intelligence update.

"Rosgvardia will likely deploy its new volunteer detachments to Ukraine and Africa," Britain's defense ministry said, and is "reportedly offering volunteers six-month contracts for service in Ukraine, and nine-month contracts for service in Africa." Russia has long maintained a security presence throughout the continent to serve its foreign policy aspirations.

"The incorporation of former Wagner assault detachments into Rosgvardia's volunteer corps highly likely indicates that Wagner has been successfully subordinated to Rosgvardia, increasing the Russian state's command and control over the Wagner group," Britain's defense ministry added.

wagner group
Members of the Wagner Group prepare to depart from the Southern Military District's headquarters and return to their base in Rostov-on-Don, Russia on June 24, 2023.Arkady Budnitsky/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Rosgvardia, which was created in 2016 and resembles a sort of internal security agency, is often referred to as Russian President Vladimir Putin's "private army" because it reports only to him.

The national guard, led by Gen. Viktor Zolotov, did little to stop the heavily armed Wagner Group columns from invading Russia during its short-lived rebellion in June, and in the aftermath Rosgvardia asked Putin for armored vehicles and other military equipment under the premise that it would help improve security at the borders.

In August, the Russian president signed a law allowing Rosgvardia to be equipped with heavy weaponry. Some in the West observed this as an effort to strengthen the national guard.

"With Zolotov previously suggesting that heavy equipment should include artillery and attack helicopters, the move suggests that the Kremlin is doubling down on resourcing Rosgvardia as one of the key organizations to ensure regime security," Britain's defense ministry wrote of the development in an early August intelligence update.

Russian police and National Guard (Rosgvardia) servicemen patrol Red Square in central Moscow.
Russian police and National Guard (Rosgvardia) servicemen patrol Red Square in central Moscow on Oct. 20, 2021.ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

By the end of the year, Rosgvardia had established a footprint inside Russian-held regions of Ukraine. Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War said in December that Moscow appeared to be using the national guard to expand its control over this occupied territory without having to rely on front-line troops.

This new development also marks the latest chapter in Wagner's downfall, which went from being a feared force fighting independently in Ukraine to becoming subsumed by the Russian state. The mercenaries played a key role in the months-long battle for Bakhmut; their efforts were characterized by gruesome human wave tactics at a cost of tens of thousands of lives.

After the failed mutiny, and later the death of the organization's founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Kremlin moved to assume more control over the mercenaries, especially in Africa — where they used to operate in several countries as a shadowy extension of the Kremlin. Over the past few years they have been accused of committing various atrocities and human rights violations there.

A new Russian military formation called the Africa Corps — which has the same name as a Nazi unit — is even trying to recruit former Wagner mercenaries for combat operations across the continent.

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