MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin was on Friday shown meeting one of the most senior former commanders of the Wagner mercenary group and discussing how best to use “volunteer units” in the Ukraine war.
The meeting underscored the Kremlin’s attempt to show that the state had now gained control over the mercenary group after a failed June mutiny by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was killed with other senior commanders in a plane crash in August.
Just days after the Wagner’s mutiny, Putin offered the mercenaries the opportunity to keep fighting but suggested that commander Andrei Troshev take over from Prigozhin, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper has reported.
The Kremlin said that Putin had met with Troshev, who is known by his nom de guerre “Sedoi” — or “grey hair” — and Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who sat closest to Putin, on Thursday night.
Addressing Troshev, Putin said that they had spoken about how “volunteer units that can perform various combat tasks, above all, of course, in the zone of the special military operation.”
“You yourself have been fighting in such a unit for more than a year,” Putin said. “You know what it is, how it is done, you know about the issues that need to be resolved in advance so that the combat work goes in the best and most successful way.”
Putin also said that he wanted to speak about social support for those involved in the fighting. The meeting took place in the Kremlin and was shown on state television.
Troshev was shown listening to Putin, leaning forward and nodding, pencil in hand. His remarks were not shown.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA news agency that Troshev now worked at the defense ministry.
The fate of Wagner, one of the world’s most battle-hardened mercenary forces, has been unclear since Prigozhin’s failed June 23 mutiny and his death on Aug. 23.
The aborted mutiny is widely regarded to have posed the most serious internal challenge to Putin — and to the Russian state — for decades. Prigozhin said the mutiny was not aimed at toppling Putin but at settling scores with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
After Prigozhin’s death, Putin ordered Wagner fighters to sign an oath of allegiance to the Russian state — a step Prigozhin had opposed.
The Putin meeting appears to indicate that what remains of Wagner will now be overseen by Troshev and Yevkurov, who has traveled over recent months to several countries where the mercenaries work.
A decorated veteran of Russia’s wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya and a former commander in the SOBR interior ministry rapid reaction force,Troshev is from St. Petersburg, Putin’s home town, and has been pictured with the president.
He was awarded Russia’s highest medal, Hero of Russia, in 2016 for the storming of Palmyra in Syria against Daesh militants.