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Members of Russia's Wagner Group — an infamous mercenary army — are fighting alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, primarily in the Donbas region, the Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday.
A senior US defence official confirmed their presence after Ukrainian intelligence on Sunday said Wagner Group assassins had entered Ukraine on a mission to kill President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and members of his leadership team.
“We do assess the Wagner group is active in Ukraine, we think that activity is largely in the Donbas area,” the US official told Pentagon reporters.
The Wagner group is reputedly connected to the Kremlin as well as to President Vladimir Putin — though Moscow denies any involvement with it.
The US said last month it had “indications” of Wagner’s presence but “it’s not exactly clear where or how much” the group is involved in the fighting.
In Sunday's Facebook post, Ukrainian intelligence said the Wagner militia's “criminal” mission in Ukraine was to “eliminate the top military and political leadership of Ukraine.”
“Another group of militants linked to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian propagandist close to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and owner of the Liga [Wagner], began arriving in Ukraine today,” the Ministry of Defence's Main Intelligence Directorate of the ministry announced on Facebook.
The defence official said there are “no indications” that the Wagner group had brought in mercenaries from outside Russia — including Syria.
In December, the EU sanctioned the Wagner Group and 11 of its associates for its activities in Ukraine, Libya, the Central African Republic and Syria. The State Department said the group is also present in Mali.
Assessing Russia’s standing in the war, the US defence official said the battle remains contested, 27 days after the invasion began. The Pentagon said Moscow is now using naval assets in the Sea of Azov to fire on Mariupol but predicted a “tough fight”.
In a shift, the Pentagon said it sees indications that Ukraine is “now able and willing to take back territory” it has lost to Russia in the past four weeks.