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ISW: Russia likely sent Wagner Group fighters to Avdiivka to reinforce military
Russia's military leadership has likely committed some Kremlin-backed private mercenary Wagner Group elements to the Russian offensive on Avdiivka in order to reinforce its recent limited advances on the city, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest update.
Avdiivka is located in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk Oblast, just 10 kilometers from the city of Donetsk, occupied by Russia since 2014. It has recently become the site of intense battles as Russia attempts to advance on the city.
The ISW cited Ukrainian Tavriisk Defense Forces Spokesperson Colonel Oleksiy Dmytrashkivyskyi as stating on March 25 that Ukrainian intelligence believes that Wagner could appear in the Avdiivka area.
The D.C.-based think tank also reported that an obituary appeared on the Russian social media network VK announcing the death of Wagner Group fighter Yevgeny Malgotin in Avdiivka on March 20.
According to the obituary, Malgotin fought with the 2nd Russian Volunteer Detachment of the Army of Republika Sprska, commonly referred to as the Bosnian Serb Army, in 1992, the ISW wrote.
Malgotin's combat experience could be a sign that Wagner fighters in the area are of a higher caliber than the convict-based force that Wagner has committed to Bakhmut, the site of the war's heaviest fighting as Russia tries to lay claim to the city.
The Wagner Group, founded and led by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin confidant Yevgeny Prigozhin, began a campaign to recruit Russian prisoners in mid-2022 to fight in the war against Ukraine. Prisoners were offered an official pardon in exchange for six months on the battlefield.
Prigozhin announced that Wagner had “completely stopped” recruiting prisoners to fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine on Feb. 9.
According to the ISW, Russia "may have decided to deploy certain Wagner elements to the Avdiivka area in recent weeks to support exhausted and lower-quality (Russian-backed proxy militant) elements in their efforts to take the settlement."
"If such Wagner fighters have been fighting near Avdiivka, their involvement may help explain the limited tactical gains made in the area over the past week," the ISW wrote.