Ukraine at D+582: Reintegrating mercenaries.
N2K logoSep 29, 2023

Russia and Ukraine exchange drone strikes. Russia seeks to reintegrate once-and-future mercenaries into the line. Disinformation and weapons of mass destruction.

Ukraine at D+582: Reintegrating mercenaries.

Ukrainian forces maintain their slow advance around Bakhmut and in the western Zaporizhia Oblast, where the operational objective remains Melitopol. The tempo of attempted Russian counterattacks in other sectors--mostly diversionary and spoiling attacks--appears, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) writes, to be falling off.

Russia hit three cities--Mykolaiv and Odesa in the south, Kirovohrad in the central part of the country--with Iranian Shahed drones, Al Jazeera reports. Ukraine claimed to have shot down 34 of the 44 drones launched, and said damage on the ground was minor. On the other side of the border Russian officials in Kursk said that a Ukrainian drone attack hit an electrical power substation and knocked out power in several villages.

The hard-war Russian milbloggers are saying, according to the ISW, that they're self-censoring, and reporting only a fraction of what they know. They have a predilection for reporting bad news (bad from the Russian standpoint) and there's some concern among milbloggers that they might run afoul of a newly passed law that would punish promoting and justifying "extremism."

Individual Wagnerites find their way back to the front.

"In recent weeks, up to hundreds of fighters formerly associated with the Wagner Group private military company (PMC) have likely started to redeploy to Ukraine as individuals and small groups," the UK's Ministry of Defense wrote in this morning's situation report, "fighting for a variety of pro-Russian units. Wagner withdrew from combat operations in Ukraine by early June 2023, prior to the abortive mutiny of 24 June 2023, and the subsequent death of Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin and other senior leaders in a plane crash on 23 August 2023." They are thought to have been parceled out to regular units and other private military corporations. "The exact status of the redeploying personnel is unclear, but it is likely individuals have transferred to parts of the official Russian Ministry of Defence forces and other PMCs. Several reports suggest a concentration of Wagner veterans around Bakhmut: their experience is likely to be particularly in demand in this sector. Many will be familiar with current front line and local Ukrainian tactics, having fought over the same terrain last winter."

POLITICO reports that Ukraine says the Wagner Group is back in action. "Several hundred fighters from the group once ruled by now-dead warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin were spotted fighting in the ranks of different Russian military units on the eastern front." Colonel Serhiy Cherevatyi told POLITICO that the Wagnerites' reappearance in the lines is a negligible augmentation to Russian combat power. “I see nothing special in their return. Wagner is no longer a powerful force. Those who returned are far from being in a good fighting mood, as they know what to expect here,” Cherevatyi said. “Furthermore, they are now under the control of the Defense Ministry."

And the former Wagner Group chief of staff is charged with organizing new volunteer formations.

Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reports that President Putin has engaged Andrei Troshev, the Wagner Group's former chief of staff, to organize volunteer combat units. President Putin said that Mr. Troshev, who now works for the Ministry of Defense, "is aware of issues that need to be solved beforehand to secure better and successful combat activities." Mr. Toshev has had a difficult relationship with the remnants of his former employer: back in August Wagnerites accused him of working against the Group, for the Ministry and especially on behalf of the rival private military corporation Redut. Redut is regarded as closely affiliated with Russia's Ministry of Defense.

One likely source of volunteers is Russia's large prison system, which offers a large pool of manpower without prospects or hope of a better life. Dissident journalist Olga Romanova explained to Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty how recruiting works inside what she characterized as an unregenerate Stalinst prison system. The main inducement isn't money. "But maybe the main motivation -- and I have heard this hundreds of times and there is no response to it -- is: 'They need me there,'" she said. "They say something like: 'I sit here for two more years and then what? I have no home and won't be able to get one. I have no family. I have no job and won't be able to get one. Within a year, I'll either drink myself to death or overdose on heroin. Or else I'll be back in prison, and I don't want to start that circle over again. No one on the outside needs me.'"

Influence operations as an adjunct to nuclear, biological, and chemical preparation and deterrence.

The US Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction published yesterday was informed in part by observation of Russia's war against Ukraine. "Competitors seek to achieve multi-domain effects through activities across cyber, space, and terrestrial domains with WMD-related information and advanced systems. Specifically, both the PRC {People's Republic of China] and Russia have obfuscated the truth and reinforced their preferred false narratives through disinformation. Russia has employed disinformation to deny Russian and Syrian chemical weapons use, justify its invasion of Ukraine, and falsely accuse the United States and Ukraine of violating the BWC. The PRC reiterates and reinforces Russian disinformation efforts and uses disinformation to justify territorial claims and to assert that the COVID-19 pandemic originated with the U.S. military. These actions result in a more complex and entangled problem set."

The strategy also notes that "the PRC and Russia have also proven adept at manipulating the information space to inhibit attribution of its activities, to reduce trust and confidence in the effectiveness of countermeasure, and to potentially slow decision-making following WMD use." China is seen as the "pacing threat," Russia as the "acute threat."