Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered one of the top commanders of the Wagner military contractor to take charge of “volunteer units” fighting in Ukraine, signaling the Kremlin's effort to keep using the mercenaries after the death of their chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
In remarks released by the Kremlin on Friday, Putin told Andrei Troshev that his task is to “deal with forming volunteer units that could perform various combat tasks, primarily in the zone of the special military operation” — a term the Kremlin uses for its war in Ukraine.
Wagner fighters have had no significant role on the battlefield since the mercenary company withdrew after capturing the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the war's longest and bloodiest battle and then staged a brief insurrection when they marched toward Moscow.
After the aborted mutiny, speculation has been rife about the future of the mercenary group that was one of the most capable elements of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. Many observers expected it to be folded into the Defense Ministry, and Putin's comments appeared to confirm that process was underway.
Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was also present at the meeting late Thursday, a sign that Wagner mercenaries will likely serve under the Defense Ministry's command. Speaking in a conference call with reporters on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Troshev now…