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Russians deploy more than 1,000 mercenaries with ugly reputation in eastern Ukraine



More than 1,000 troops from Kremlin-backed mercenaries the Wagner Group are being deployed in eastern Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence has said.

The private army, which has close links to Vladimir Putin, has been transferred from campaigns in Africa and Syria, in what Western officials said was a further sign of Russia’s stuttering invasion.

According to sources, the troops are being moved into the Donbas region as part of Russian efforts to take on Ukraine’s most experienced units and seize control of the region.

The Wagner Group has a fearsome reputation and is believed to be privately funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” due to him earning his wealth through restaurants.

However, Western officials cast doubt over the group’s abilities, though they did suggest that its involvement in Ukraine could lead to more war crimes in the country.

“They have a reputation but I am not sure it is entirely justified. The experience of the Wagner Group in Libya was that they had to call on the Russian ministry of defence to help get them out of holes that they had dug themselves into,” the source said. “I am not sure 1,000 Wagner troops is going to change the tide in the Donbas.”

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The source added: “They have a fearsome reputation but that is more down to them not adhering to the rule of law in conflict.”

The introduction of the private army comes amid reports of Russian troops defecting, with Western officials highlighting reports of Russian personnel destroying equipment to prevent them from being able to take further part in the conflict.

Western intelligence also suggests that Mr Putin is not being fully briefed on how the invasion is playing out, with sources stating they are “less certain that Putin is getting an honest picture of what is happening on the ground”.

Sources add: “Within Russia they will be blaming each other [over the progress of the invasion], which changes how the truth gets through. People will be looking to point the finger at one another.”

They also said that there was evidence of blame being passed between Russian agencies overseeing the invasion, as well as between levels within these organisations: “We have seen commanders at a variety of levels being removed, and we are seeing them being killed [on the battlefield] and having to be replaced.”

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