The chief of the Wagner mercenary group has paused recruiting after Putin approved plans for a vast network of private militias on home soil.
The Kremlin quietly approved new laws last week which allow for the creation of ‘specialised companies’ to ‘ensure public safety’ and protect Russia’s borders.
Officials have not said exactly what tasks will be given to mercenaries, or why they’re needed on top of Russia’s national guard and territorial forces.
But the Russian president recently hinted he wanted to change the status of the dozens of private military companies which are active in Russia but do not ‘legally exist’.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who marched toward Moscow with thousands of his men in last month’s failed mutiny, has not directly reacted to the plans.
But in an audio message posted on Telegram, he appeared to be at pains to clarify that Wagner is not shoring up its forces in the wake of the incident.
The 62-year-old oligarch admitted ‘most’ Wagner troops are now ‘on holiday’ and that remaining forces will either train in Belarus or take part in existing contracts in Africa.
He insisted Wagner is moving onto its ‘next tasks’ the outline of which is ‘becoming more and more clearly drawn’, but did not point to any new contracts.
Prigozhin added: ‘As long as we do not experience a shortage in personnel, we do not plan to carry out a new recruitment.
’However, we will be extremely grateful to you if you keep in touch with us, and as soon as the Motherland needs to create a new (additional) group that will be able to protect the interests of our country, we will certainly start recruiting.’
Any new Wagner missions ‘will be carried out in the name of the greatness of Russia’, he added.
Wagner’s military prowess and Prigozhin’s popularity among his troops has presented a tough challenge for Putin, who is usually merciless in stamping out dissent.
Prigozhin’s comments could be seen as a bid to reassure Putin he is no longer a threat.
But they could also be a subtle attempt to tell Moscow he remains more loyal to the Russian people than the president, and that his troops remain more loyal to him.
Prigozhin added that only a few of his soldiers joined the regular Russian army – an option they were given as part of the deal to neutralise the coup.
He called the situation ‘unfortunate’, although the remark could be little more than lip service intended to avoid unnecessarily offending the Kremlin.
Reports suggest the mutineers were spurred by repeated military cock-ups blamed on incompetent Russian generals, which are rumoured to include accidental friendly-fire missile strikes hitting Wagner bases near the front line.
Prigozhin fired increasingly harsh criticism at Russia’s military leaders after their progress in Ukraine stagnated.
He made the removal of defence minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of defence staff Valery Gerasimov the core demand of his rebellion.
By openly asserting that Wagner troops are still not keen on fighting under Putin’s generals, Prigozhin may be signalling that Wagner remains the top dog in Russia’s shadowy mercenary world.
Earlier this month, Putin told a reporter from Russia’s Kommersant newspaper on Thursday that Wagner ‘does not exist’ in a legal sense because Russia has no law on private military companies.
New legislation on the matter would be discussed by his ministers and by the Duma, Russia’s parliament.
New laws widening the age of military service contain ‘amendments’ which ‘provide for a legal mechanism’ on private military companies controlled by state officials, the Duma’s defence committee said on Tuesday.
According to Karolina Hird, a Russia expert at the Institute for the Study of War, the move is aimed at filling weak spots in Russia’s domestic security without creating another Wagner.
‘They’re trying to balance these two competing but very very important security requirements’, Ms Hird told the US outlet, Daily Beast.
‘And that’s the need to create some sort of militarized entity akin to Wagner, but that is structurally very different from Wagner because Wagner’s structure was kind of inherent of the security threat it ended up posing to the Russian state.
‘They need these kind of entities to fill certain law enforcement and security roles in Russian regions, but these entities cannot be so centralized and powerful that they become their own Wagner group and then pose a threat to the Russian state akin to what Wagner posed during the rebellion.’
Experts have suggested the new armed groups could also stamp out protests by ordinary Russians if the Kremlin tries to draft more reservists or conscript civilians for its invasion.
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].
For more stories like this, check our news page.
Source: Read Full Article