A senior Pentagon official told reporters on Tuesday that Russia's Wagner Group, which is the most well known private military firm with links to Putin, is "active" inside Ukraine - following allegations out of Kiev officials that they are tasked with assassinating President Zelensky.
There's long been speculation that Russian mercenaries were already very active in separatist regions of the Donbas. Starting last year the Wagner Group was among a number of Russian entities hit with US sanctions. The firm is said to be controlled by "Putin’s Chef" Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who was also added to the FBI’s wanted list, and reportedly runs the mercenary firm that's been deployed to various conflicts in Africa, Syria and eastern Ukraine.
According to the official cited in CNN, there's as yet no evidence that the Russian contractors have been transferred into Ukraine from other conflicts, such as in Syria.
The report details the following:
There are no foreign fighters “that have flown into the country” from Syria or elsewhere that the US has seen, the official added.
Right now, the US is not seeing “tangible indications” that Russians are making an effort to re-supply, but “we do continue to see indications that they are having these discussions and that they are making these kinds of plans both in terms of re-supply and also reinforcement,” the official noted.
The statement echoes the belief that with rising Russian troop deaths, particularly among paratroopers and special forces, elite Wagner operatives could eventually be utilized to fill the gap. Like with American private defense firms, these troops were often previously part of special forces of the regular military ranks.
Ukrainian officials have meanwhile expressed alarm that mercenaries could be used to infiltrate Ukraine government areas to conduct high level assassinations.
"Russian Wagner group mercenaries have travelled to Ukraine on a mission to assassinate Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky, intelligence reports claim," The Daily Mail wrote this week, citing Ukrainian sources.
"Intelligence authorities attached to the Ministry of Defence said Russian President Vladimir Putin 'personally ordered another attack by one of his proxies', referring to the Wagner group."
'All previous attempts ended in the failure and elimination' of Wagner mercenaries at the hands of Ukrainian forces, the report added.
One hawkish US Congressman is calling for the US to fight the Russian mercs wherever they are found...
The Wagner group is deployed everywhere. We already killed 400 like them in Syria, now maybe a good time for more? Libya, Syria, South America, and Ukraine. Wagner doesn’t have nukes….— Adam Kinzinger (@AdamKinzinger) March 20, 2022
The shadow warriors deployed to kill Zelensky - Asia Times https://t.co/bJV8qcVzVA
However, such allegations of direct ties between Wagner Group and Putin-ordered high level operations are impossible to prove or confirm. Typically, mercenaries are deployed to foreign battlefields by state actors precisely so there can be 'plausible deniability' shielding heads of state from shady ops on the battlefield.