Russian mercenary group presence declines in Ukraine, says US

WASHINGTON: The Wagner mercenary group is no longer working for Russia “in any significant capacity in support of combat operations in Ukraine”, a Pentagon spokesperson has confirmed.

This comes weeks after the group led a 24-hour mutiny in Russia that challenged President Vladimir Putin’s authority, after Wagner’s troops were central in capturing Ukraine’s eastern city of Bakhmut.

Under the deal that ended the June rebellion, Wagner fighters were informed they could join the regular Russian army or be exiled to Belarus with their chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Earlier this week, the Kremlin said that Putin had met Prigozhin in Moscow days after the mutiny, and that Putin’s offer was made clear to the fighters during that meeting.

According to Russian newspaper Kommersant on Thursday, Putin said Wagner’s troops could have chosen to “continue their service” for the Russian state military instead.

“They would have been led by the person who had been their real commander all this time,” he said, referring to himself.

He also stated that “Wagner does not exist”, suggesting that private military groups are not recognised under the Russian state’s legal framework.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden remarked in a news conference in Finland that Prighozin should be careful of poisoning, citing Putin’s unpredictable tactics. “I’d keep an eye on my menu”, Biden said.

In a Helsinki summit, Biden said that Putin had already lost the Ukraine war after Wagner’s split.

Biden believes that Putin will eventually “decide it’s not in the interest of Russia, economically, politically or otherwise to continue this war. But I can’t predict exactly how that will happen.”

Ukraine has long asked Western allies to provide more military aid to help its resistance against the Russian invasion.

Although it did not get a solid timeframe for NATO membership at a recent summit in Lithuania, Ukraine did receive a long-term security framework from G7 members to help guard against Russia.

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