WASHINGTON — A private Russian military contractor that has been accused of human rights abuses has deployed to Eastern Ukraine, according to Britain’s Defense Ministry.
The ministry’s Defense Intelligence said the Wagner Group was expected to bring up to 1,000 mercenaries to take part in combat operations in Ukraine after the regular Russian military experienced heavy losses.
Air Vice-Marshal Mick Smeath, London’s defense attaché in Washington, said in a statement that Russia has likely been forced to reprioritize Wagner personnel for Ukraine at the expense of its operations in Africa and Syria.
Smeath’s statement comes after Pentagon officials said recently that they expected Russia to look for ways to replace their combat losses with Russian troops based in other countries. Last Friday, the Pentagon said it appeared Moscow was drawing on Russian troops based in Georgia, but no details were available on their number or the timing of their expected deployment.
Thousands of mercenaries from Wagner Group have been deployed in Syria since 2015. The U.S. and EU consider the group to be a surrogate of the Russian military, but the Kremlin denies it even exists.
In December, the EU imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group and its founder, Dmitry Utkin, for fomenting violence and committing human rights abuses in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine.