(Reuters) – A large group of Russia’s former Wagner mercenaries has started training with special forces from the southern Russian region of Chechnya, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on Monday.
Wagner played a prominent role in some of the fiercest fighting of Russia’s war in Ukraine, but its future was thrown into question when its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash in August, two months after leading a brief mutiny against the Russian defence establishment.
Kadyrov said in a message on Telegram that a big group of ex-Wagner fighters was undergoing intensive training with his own Akhmat special forces.
“I am glad that today the ranks of the famous (Akhmat) unit have been joined by fighters who have excellent combat experience and have proven themselves as brave and efficient warriors,” he said.
“I am confident that in the upcoming battles they will fully live up to their reputation.”
He published a video, accompanied by stirring music, showing soldiers in combat training, including some wearing Wagner insignia on their uniforms and masks over their faces. Kadyrov said the drills included shooting, field medicine and training for snipers, machine gunners, sappers and artillerymen.
It was not clear how many Wagner men were taking part or whether any of them would stay on with the Chechen forces after the training was over.
After Prigozhin’s death, the Kremlin rejected as an “absolute lie” suggestions that he had been killed on President Vladimir Putin’s orders to punish him for the June mutiny. Russia has yet to publish the results of an investigation into the fatal plane crash.
Putin subsequently moved to bring Wagner’s fighters under the control of the state, ordering them to sign an oath of allegiance, and the Kremlin has repeatedly said the group does not exist as a legal entity.
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Gareth Jones)