October 28, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Remnants of the Wagner mercenaries resurface on the battlefront in Ukraine

Institute for the Study of War

Remnants of the Wagner Group appear to be fighting in the Avdiivka direction subordinate to Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) controlled formations. A Russian military correspondent published an interview on October 25 with the commander of the Russian “Arbat” Separate Guards Special Purpose Battalion that is serving the Avdiivka direction, who claimed that an element of the Arbat Battalion is almost entirely composed of former Wagner personnel. The commander claimed that the Avdiivka direction is the Arbat Battalion’s “main direction” because the unit is part of the “Dikaya Division of Donbas” and the “Pyatnashka” Brigade — a Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) formation that is responsible for the defending Donetsk City. The commander noted that the Wagner-staffed unit sends drone operators, electronic warfare (EW) specialists, and other fighters to other units in different frontline sectors as needed. The correspondent also indicated that the Arbat Battalion is part of the Russian Armed Forces, and it is likely that the brigade consists of former Wagner personnel who signed military contracts directly with the Russian MoD following Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion and or his death.

A Ukrainian military observer also stated on October 25 that Wagner Group remnants are fighting near Avdiivka. Ukrainian and Russian sources have previously stated that small groups of former Wagner personnel, possibly under Russian MoD-controlled formations, are deployed to the Bakhmut area. It is too early to determine what role former Wagner personnel may play in Russian offensive operations against Avdiivka. The Arbat Battalion’s commander noted that the battalion’s situation on the front line is “good but not great” due to heavy personnel losses near Avdiivka. Ukrainian military observers expressed concern about continued Russian operations in the Avdiivka direction, however.

Commander of the “Akhmat” Spetsnaz forces Apty Alaudinov confirmed that Rosgvardia is recruiting former Wagner fighters into Chechen “Akhmat” Spetsnaz units. Alaudinov stated in an interview published on October 28 that a “massive” number of Wagner soldiers have joined various detachments of the “Akhmat” forces and are operating in several unspecified sectors of the front in Ukraine. Alaudinov claimed that former Wagner soldiers are following their former commanders to the “Akhmat” units. Alaudinov noted that Wagner fighters have “always spoken very respectfully about [‘Akhmat’],” likely in an attempt to stifle discussions of possible tension between the Wagner and Chechen forces after the feud between deceased Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov. ISW continues to assess that former Wagner forces fragmented between the Russian MoD and Rosgvardia Chechen units across various sectors of the front are unlikely to reemerge as an effective military organization as they will lack the strength Wagner had drawn from being a unitary organization under clear and coherent leadership. They may be tactical combat power multipliers for the units they embed with in some circumstances, however.

Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations south of Bakhmut and in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) direction. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces attacked near Robotyne, Nesteryanka (12km northwest of Robotyne), Kopani (6km northwest of Robotyne), Rivne (8km west of Robotyne), Novoprokopivka (3km south of Robotyne), and Verbove (9km east of Robotyne). A Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger claimed on October 27 that Ukrainian forces achieved “minor successes” during attacks near Robotyne.

Key Takeaways:

  • Remnants of the Wagner Group appear to be fighting in the Avdiivka direction subordinate to Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) controlled formations.
  • Commander of the “Akhmat” Spetsnaz forces Apty Alaudinov confirmed that Rosgvardia is recruiting former Wagner fighters into Chechen “Akhmat” Spetsnaz units.
  • Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 28.
  • Russian forces conducted a series of missile strikes against Dnipropetrovsk Oblast on the night of October 27 to 28.
  • Russian authorities are capitalizing on domestic ethnic tensions by increasing public coercion of Central Asian migrants into Russian military service, likely to appeal to Russian ultranationalists ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expected presidential campaign announcement.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in western Donetsk Oblast, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in some areas.
  • A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that he personally heard Russian President Vladimir Putin express his decision to send Russian conscripts to serve in the Russian Border Service.
  • Pro-Ukrainian actors reportedly conducted a cyber attack against Russian telecom operators in occupied Ukraine.
Share the Post: