Russia has deployed hundreds of mercenaries from a prolific and elite government-aligned private military company to eastern Ukraine as part of its campaign to get out of the emerging impasse there, Western intelligence evaluates.

Convergence on the beleaguered corner of Ukraine known as Donbas likely undermines Russian influence in other places around the world where the troops, called the Wagner Group, operate, according to the British Ministry of Defence, who released an assessment of the deployment to reporters on Monday evening. .

“They are expected to deploy over 1,000 mercenaries, including senior leadership of the organization, to undertake combat operations,” British Air Vice Marshal Mick Smeath said in the statement. “Due to heavy casualties and a largely stalled invasion, Russia was likely forced to reprioritize Wagner personnel for Ukraine at the expense of operations in Africa and Syria.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin previously called on foreign fighters and organizations like Wagner to join his cause in Ukraine.

Last week, the British government sanctioned the Wagner Group, along with dozens of other influential Russian groups and leaders, in a bid to target the centers of power closest to Putin and his global ambitions. The mercenary network – and the plausible deniability it employs as a private enterprise – has become synonymous with Russia’s most nefarious operations abroad.

The latest deployment has implications for Putin’s government beyond the tacit admission of his military struggles in Ukraine.
“Russia’s poor military performance will negatively impact its image abroad, making it less likely for nation states to seek Russian training and military-to-military relations,” wrote private intelligence firm The Soufan. Center in an analysis note this week on reports at this time of Wagner’s deployment. “Without a reputation for a strong military, Russian military deployments, already associated with a blatant disregard for human rights, will become less attractive.”

Monday’s assessment comes as other Western officials say the surprising strength of Ukraine’s defenses have shaken Putin’s battle plan for the former Soviet state, which he invaded without provocation more than a year ago. months and has since waged a brutal and bloody campaign that increasingly targets civilian centres. .

US military officials revealed last week that Russia appeared to have halted its planned invasion of kyiv following embarrassing reports that a 40-mile column had become stuck on the outskirts of the city with no resupply or plans to advance in the capital.

“Maybe now they are reassessing their strategic goals because they are no longer moving to Kyiv,” a senior US defense official told reporters on Monday. “We don’t know exactly what is behind this reprioritization.”

Cartoons about Ukraine and Russia

The failure to control the airspace over Ukraine has become one of the biggest mistakes in Russian operations so far. The US official added that most airstrikes against targets in Ukraine now come from ranged missiles and other projectiles based on Russian soil or in close ally Belarus – an indication that Russian planners fear sending their pilots in the airspace covered by anti-aircraft weapons provided by the West.

Putin has backed a supposed separatist movement in Donbass since 2014, when Russia also annexed the strategic Crimean peninsula. Part of Russia’s current operations to seize the strategic southern Donbass port city of Mariupol is as much about blockading Ukraine as extending its grip on those territories, officials say.