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1,000 mercenaries from Putin’s ‘Wagner’ private army sent to eastern Ukraine, UK says

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A pro-Russian fighter near a dilapidated apartment building in the defeated southern port city of Mariupol on Monday (REUTERS)

Vladimir Putin’s “private army” of more than 1,000 mercenaries is deploying to eastern Ukraine as he seeks to refocus his stalled invasion in this part of the country, British defense chiefs say.

They believe Group Wagner is being used after Russian forces suffered such heavy losses, with over 10,000 soldiers believed to have been killed.

In its latest intelligence report on Monday night, the Defense Ministry said: “The Russian Private Military Company of the Wagner Group has been deployed in eastern Ukraine.

“They are expected to deploy more than 1,000 mercenaries, including the organization’s top leaders, to undertake combat operations.”

The defense chiefs added: “Due to heavy losses and a largely stalled invasion, it is very likely that Russia has been forced to prioritize Wagner personnel for Ukraine at the expense of operations in Africa and Syria.”

It comes after UK defense chiefs said Putin’s troops had made “no significant change” in the 24 hours before seizing territory in Ukraine.

In the fifth week of the conflict, they emphasized that Russian gains were being threatened by “aggressive” Ukrainian resistance, lack of momentum, low morale among soldiers, and ongoing logistical problems.

However, Russian troops have taken some ground in the Mariupol area of ​​southern Ukraine, where they have been beating the city for weeks, with reports that this is leaving some civilians starving.

The Defense Ministry said Monday morning: “In the last 24 hours there have been no significant changes in the dispositions of the Russian forces in occupied Ukraine.”

He added: “The ongoing logistical shortage has been exacerbated by a continued lack of momentum and morale between the Russian military and the aggressive fighting Ukrainians.”

However, he also emphasized: “Russia has gained more ground in the south, in the vicinity of Mariupol, where heavy fighting continues as Russia tries to capture the port.”

Having failed in his initial invasion plan, Putin now appears to be trying to seize control of the breakaway Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk, two areas controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

However, his forces are believed to have already suffered at least 10,000 dead and there is growing public concern in Russia about the invasion.

Even if he can seize eastern Ukraine, his army risks being bogged down in insurgency warfare for many years, as happened in Afghanistan for Soviet troops, and later for US-led forces.

Speaking to The Economist, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said it was “only a matter of time” before his country emerged victorious, in words that echoed the Taliban’s words to US forces: “You have the clocks . We have the time.”

Donate here: Please donate what you can to the appeal of the Evening Standard Ukraine (EN)

Donate here: Please donate what you can to the appeal of the Evening Standard Ukraine (EN)

He also signaled his willingness to discuss a neutral status for Ukraine as part of peace talks to end the conflict, but stressed that Russia had to withdraw its troops.

Despite the horrors inflicted by Putin on Ukraine’s towns and cities, with tens of thousands of civilians feared dead, Zelensky stressed that his country still believes in victory.

“It is impossible to believe in anything else. We will definitely win because this is our home, in our land, our independence. It’s just a matter of time,” she said.

Zelensky also praised Boris Johnson for his leadership role against the Russian invasion and claimed that Germany was “making a mistake” in trying to take a more balanced approach due to its deeper economic ties to Moscow.

His comments were followed by a late-night video interview with independent Russian journalists on Sunday in which he reiterated earlier statements indicating he was willing to discuss neutrality with Russia.

The president added that Ukraine might consider offering security guarantees to the Kremlin that would involve its government agreeing to stay out of NATO.

Ukraine would also remain free of nuclear weapons, he said.

He said the issue of neutrality should be put to Ukrainian voters in a referendum after Russian troops withdraw.

He said a vote could be held within a few months of the troops’ departure.

In The Economist interview, the president said “Britain is definitely on our side” and “is not doing a balancing act” but declined to say whether the UK wants to end the war quickly at any cost.

Asked if the prime minister had been more interested than French President Emmanuel Macron in sending weapons, Zelensky replied: “Yes. To be honest, Johnson is a leader who is helping the most.

“Country leaders react according to how their constituents act. In this case, Johnson is an example.”

Johnson has forged a close relationship with the Ukrainian leader, speaking to him regularly on the phone.

The prime minister said sending the tanks and fighter jets that Zelensky called for when he addressed a summit of NATO leaders last week would be “logistically” very difficult, but he did not rule it out.

But Macron warned that providing armored vehicles and fighter jets could drag NATO into direct conflict with Russia by crossing a “red line”.

Zelensky placed foreign nations into categories, ranging from those that want the conflict to end quickly by any means so they can maintain access to Russian markets to those that support the Ukrainian people who “want the war to end quickly at any cost.” ”.

“Britain is definitely on our side. She is not performing a balancing act. Britain sees no other alternative to get out of the situation,” she said.

“Britain wants Ukraine to win and Russia to lose, but I’m not ready to say whether Britain wants the war to go on or not.”

The government, meanwhile, distanced the UK from Joe Biden’s apparent call for regime change in Moscow when he said in an impassioned speech that Putin “cannot stay in power”.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said whether to topple Putin over his invasion of Ukraine is up to “the Russian people” after the US president’s seemingly impromptu call prompted the White House to scramble to retract the comment. .

In a highly charged speech in Warsaw, Biden appealed directly to the Russian people with comparisons between the invasion of Ukraine and the horrors of World War II.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot stay in power,” he said at the end of his speech about the Russian president whom he previously described as a “butcher.”

But a White House official quickly tried to clarify, arguing that the US president’s point was that the Russian leader “cannot afford to wield power over his neighbors or the region.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted “we don’t have a regime change strategy” as the Kremlin said “it’s not up to the Americans to decide who will stay in power in Russia.”

French President Emanuel Macron said he “would not use those terms” voiced by Biden and suggested they could make it difficult to resolve the conflict, adding: “We want to stop the war that Russia launched in Ukraine, without waging war and without climbing.”

In an interview on Sunday, Zahawi said “the Russian people must decide how they govern themselves,” but suggested they “would certainly do well” to have someone who “is democratic and understands their wishes.”

“That is up to the Russian people and only the Russian people can make that decision. I suspect most of them are pretty fed up with Putin and his cronies and illegal warfare,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.

But he refused to criticize Biden, unlike Tobias Ellwood, unlike the Conservative MP who chairs the Defense of the Commons Committee, who said Putin will now “turn this around, go deeper and fight harder.”

Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov has warned that the Russian president wants to split the country in two under a “Korean scenario,” referring to the division between North and South Korea.

His comments came after Moscow indicated it might scale back its offensive to focus on what it said was the “main goal, the liberation of Donbas,” the region bordering Russia in eastern Ukraine.

Peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are expected to start in Turkey in the coming days.

Zelensky earlier warned that he would not cede territory in the peace talks, saying his troops have dealt “powerful blows” to the invading forces.


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