Putin meets with Wagner commander who was once arrested while ‘dangerously intoxicated,’ says he’s now leading combat missions in Ukraine

In this pool photograph distributed by Sputnik agency Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) attends a meeting with Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov (2R) and chairman of the League for Protecting Interests of Veterans of Local Wars and Military Conflicts, Andrei Troshev (R) at the Kremlin in Moscow on September 28, 2023.

MIKHAIL METZEL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin met Friday with the new commander of Wagner, Andrei Troshev.At the meeting, Putin referred to Troshev leading “various combat missions,” including in Ukraine.Troshev was the second in command of Wagner before the death of former boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.

A Wagner Group commander who helped lead the mercenary group’s military campaign in Syria — and who, per reports, has a problematic relationship with alcohol — has been tasked with creating and leading “volunteer units” that are currently fighting in Ukraine, the Kremlin revealed on Friday.

Andre Troshev, a former colonel in the Russian military, took over as head of the Wagner paramilitary organization following the death of previous boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in August. He had been the group’s second in command but did not appear to back Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny against Russian military leadership two months earlier.

Putin met with Troshev on Thursday night to discuss his work in in Ukraine and elsewhere, according to a brief transcript of the meeting released by the Kremlin.

“Last time we met you said that you would focus on creating volunteer units which will fulfill various combat missions, including in the zone of the special military operation,” Putin said to Troshev, according to the transcript, using the Russian state euphemism for the war in Ukraine. “You know what it is like, how to do it, and what issues should be addressed in advance to ensure the best possible and the most successful fulfillment of combat missions.”

Putin also said he wanted to “discuss social matters” with Troshev. “You maintain contacts with the comrades you fought together with,” he said, “and you continue to fulfill combat missions now.”

Also attending the meeting was Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yekurov. According to the Financial Times, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the meeting was “routine” and that Troshev himself “works for the defense ministry.”

In 2017, The Moscow Times, an independent news outlet, reported that Troshev had been arrested in St. Petersburg after becoming “dangerously intoxicated.” Troshev had 5 million rubles on his person, or more than $50,000, and maps of Syria, where he had led Wagner mercenaries in the fight against opposition groups and the Islamic State. He was named a “Hero of Russia” in both 2015 and 2016 for his work in Syria, where Moscow supports the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Since Prigozhin’s rebellion, Russia has subsumed much of Wagner’s operations under the formal command of the defense ministry. But it continues to rely on the group’s mercenary fighters, some of the most experienced at Russia’s disposal.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, earlier this week noted reports that hundreds of Wagner fighters have been spotted recently around Bakhmut, a war-torn city in eastern Ukraine that the mercenaries helped to capture earlier this year.

This new development comes after Wagner fighters took a lengthy hiatus from the battlefield in the wake of the aborted insurrection, after which thousands of mercenaries ended up at a training camp in neighboring Belarus helping to train the country’s military.

A Ukrainian military official confirmed this week that around 500 Wagner fighters returned to eastern Ukraine and will “participate in combat operations, both as instructors and military personnel.”

“However,” the official added, “they will not pose a significant threat like they did before because they don’t have their leader, Prigozhin. These individuals are indeed among the most well-trained in the Russian army, but they will not become a game-changer.” 

Elements of the Wagner Group also continue to operate in several countries across Africa — including Mali and the Central African Republic — where it has been accused of committing various atrocities and human rights violations.

“Wagner still has a substantial presence on the continent, as you know, and where that goes from here is left to be seen,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters earlier this week, adding that the organization’s leadership is in flux.

“I do know that Wagner can probably sustain itself in the near term. But going forward in the midterm or longer term, it will be tough for them to sustain themselves without the support of Russia,” he added.

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