Ukraine Situation Report: Prigozhin’s Son Has Eye On Wagner Reboot

Ukrainian officials say they are not concerned about the recent return of hundreds of Wagner Private Military Corporation troops to the battlefield near Bakhmut, where they had once been a formidable force. However, the group, now run by the late leader’s son, is negotiating with Russian officials to increase its presence in Ukraine under independent control, according to Wagner-connected Russian Telegram channels.

“If they begin returning en masse, they will be integrated into brigades,” Ukrainian unit commander Denys Yaroslavsky told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on Tuesday, according to its Telegram channel. “And, of course, as people who understand the local terrain, they will influence other units.”

Yaroslvaksy, however, said Ukraine will prevent Wagner forces from reinforcing Russian troops. 

“We are disrupting logistical routes. We are taking every measure to cut off supplies to the Wagner Group in the city of Bakhmut,” he said. “Therefore, there will be no mass replacement or rotation” of fresh troops into the Bakhmut area.

At the height of their involvement in Ukraine, there were some 36,000 Wagner troops, many of which were recruited convicts, fighting near Bakhmut, providing the bulk of Russian operations there.

They began to withdraw even before former leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s putative putsch at the end of June, which he soon called off. After Prigozhin’s reported death in August, many of those troops headed to Belarus or Africa, but last week, Ukrainian military officials said several hundred had returned to Ukraine.

“We have recorded the presence of a maximum of several hundred fighters of the former Wagner PMC (private military company),” Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern military command, said, according to Reuters.

Those fighters were scattered in different places, were not part of a single unit, and have had no significant impact, Cherevatyi said.

“They do not constitute any integral, systematic, organized force,” Cherevatyi said. “As they say – game over. These are pathetic remnants, nothing good awaits them here.”

Whether Wagner can generate any greater forces is unclear. The group, now led by Prigozhin’s son Pavel Prigozhin, is negotiating with Russian authorities to provide more troops to fight in Ukraine, according to Wagner-associated Telegram channels.

Pavel Prigozhin “has become the head of his father’s affairs and, together with the Wagner Group who has taken over command, is negotiating the return of the Wagnerites to the combat zone in Ukraine, occupying one of the most difficult areas,” the Grey Zone Telegram channel said on Tuesday.

Prigozhin’s son “is negotiating with the leadership of Rosgvradii [Russian National Guard], under whose guarantees on private terms (without signing direct contracts), part of the personnel of the ”musicians’ [as Wagner troops are colloquially known] will arrive exclusively as part of participation in this theater of military operations.”

Grey Zone added that “Wagner Group will retain everything that it currently has – name, symbols, ideology, commanders, management, principle of operation.”

The Grey Zone Telegram channel did not say how many Wagner troops might ultimately be available to fight in Ukraine.

The War Zone could not independently verify those claims. Given that Wagner had accumulated so much power under Yevgeny Prigozhin that he posed a real threat to the Russian government, the idea that the Russian National Guard would agree to those terms with his son is an open question.

Even if they did, how much combat power they could generate as an independent force is also questionable, given that before his death, Prigozhin in July turned over more than 2,000 heavy weapons, including tanks and air defense systems, to the Russian Defense Ministry.

It is also unclear how much sway Pavel Prigozhin will have where it counts most. Grey Zone’s claims about him come after a former Wagner leader, Andrey Troshev, met last week with Putin and Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.

Putin asked Troshev to oversee volunteer fighter units in Ukraine, the Kremlin said, according to the BBC

Putin told Troshev he could “volunteer units that can perform various combat tasks, above all, of course, in the zone of a special military operation,” Kremlin doublespeak for the all-out war in Ukraine. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA news agency that Troshev “now works in the defense ministry,” the BBC reported. 

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday said Russia has enough troops already to fight in Ukraine.

Claiming more than 335,000 have signed up to join the military this year, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday said he had no plans for additional mobilization of troops.

“The General Staff has no plans for additional mobilization,” he said. “The Armed Forces have the necessary number of troops to carry out the special military operation. More than 50,000 citizens signed a contract in September alone.” 

“I’d like to point out once again that all conscripts, including those from the new regions, will not be sent to the combat zone,” he added. 

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

On the battlefield, there has been no substantial movement across the frontlines in the past 24 hours. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry (MoD) says Russian forces were unsuccessful in attempts to retake ground near Andriivka in Donetsk Oblast near Bakhmut, while Russians continue to shell Ukrainian positions in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that it repelled three attacks in Donetsk Oblast near Klischiivka and struck Ukrainian forces north of Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:

  • A prominent Russian milblogger and front-line unit commander claimed that Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky “saved” the Russian 31st Guards VDV Brigade, which was fighting south of Bakhmut, mirroring claims made by a much smaller milblogger about VDV units in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • A Russian “Storm Z” assault unit instructor speculated that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) removed Lieutenant General Andrey Sychevoy from commanding the Bakhmut direction due to his poor performance.
  • Ukrainian forces marginally advanced in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area amid continued counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and near Bakhmut on October 2.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations near Kreminna, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and reportedly advanced in some areas on October 2.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited troops near Kupiansk in Kharkiv Oblast, where the Russians continue attempts to attack.

“Together with the team, we paid a visit to the 103rd separate territorial defense brigade, the 68th Separate Jaeger Brigade, the 25th Separate Airborne Brigade, and the 15th Mobile Border Guard Detachment,” he said. “Today I had the opportunity to talk to servicemen from other brigades as well.”

“As always, we talked to the battalion commanders. Specific needs of the units. Weapons and supplies, as well as manning the brigades. There are things that need to be done, in particular, to ensure that our brigades have greater motivation and combat capabilities.”

“I also had the honor to award the warriors who distinguished themselves – soldiers, sergeants, and officers. Different units, different combat paths, but equally strong Ukrainians! I am proud of all of them. It was a great pleasure to award our combat medics.”

Despite concerns over funding given that there was no aid for Ukraine in a recently passed stop-gap emergency spending measure passed by Congress, the Pentagon said it has enough money to fund Kyiv’s most urgent battlefield needs for now.

How long that lasts, however, is a concern.

“We’re still putting together [military aid] packages,” Deputy Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh told reporters, including from The War Zone, Tuesday. “We have enough funding authorities to meet Ukraine’s battlefield needs for just a little bit longer, but we need Congress to act to ensure there is no disruption in our support, especially as the Department seeks to replenish our stocks.”

At the moment, the Pentagon has about $5.4 billion left in Presidential Drawdown Authority funds after a reevaluation of that account, Singh said. That is money allocated to provide Ukraine with items directly from U.S. stocks. There is no more money left, Singh said, in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative fund, which is used to purchase items not on the shelves. In a letter to congressional leaders regarding a separate tranche of funds, Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord said there is only about $1.6 billion out of the $25.9 billion allocated by Congress remaining to replenish U.S. equipment supplied to Ukraine from current Defense Department stocks, CBS News reported Tuesday.

“I can’t really put a timeline on how long that $1.6 billion will stretch out for,” Singh said when asked how much longer those funds will lasts, adding that’s a decision for the comptroller. She said that concerns over what weapons systems might be most affected depends on what Ukraine requests. The most critical needs have been for air defenses, artillery ammunition and mine-clearing equipment, she said.

A steel worker moves a 155 mm M795 artillery projectile during the manufacturing process at the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Congress moved to pass the stop-gap measure earlier this week to avoid a government shutdown. It was passed without aid for Ukraine to placate a group of Republican house members opposed to such assistance.

Singh on Tuesday said that despite that, there is still a broad, bipartisan consensus to continue funding Ukraine.

“So I think it’s important to remember that even though there is consternation on the Hill, you still have Republican support in the House, and you still have Republican support in the Senate and, of course, Democratic support,” she said. “And it is a good reminder also that it is just a small minority of folks in the House that are expressing their opposition. So, we do feel confident that we will have bipartisan support to continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. And I think it’s important and I think many members on the Hill understand this, supporting Ukraine is in our national interest as well.”

The Army’s top weapons buyer said the service is prepared to deliver cluster munition variants of U.S.-produced Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missiles to Ukraine once President Joe Biden signs off.

As we have reported in the past, it appears the administration is moving closer to that decision.

The Army “has been postured for this eventuality for a while,” Army Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Doug Bush said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg News. “We’re ready to go fast.”

As we noted in our recent in-depth analysis of ATACMS cluster variants, “versions loaded with cluster munitions could introduce a whole other set of dire complications to Russian forces.”

Here is what the cluster variants can do for Ukraine, from our report, which you can read more about here:

“For Ukraine, which has intensely sought ATACMS over many months, the ability to deliver a 500-pound warhead with incredible force over long distances would spell big trouble for critical Ruissan logistics nodes and related infrastructure like bridges, as well as fortified command and control centers, all far behind the front lines. Yet the cluster variant puts vehicle pools, ammo dumps, and especially air defense systems and parked aircraft, under great threat.”

“A single M39A1 ATACMS, which features GPS and inertial navigation, carries some 300 M74 submunitions. The missile executes a stabilized spin during its terminal attack, with the payload dispenser covers blowing off and centrifugal force sending the bomblets flying in a large rounded pattern. The size of the area ATACMS effects and the density of the bomblet distribution can be altered via setting the release height.”

Ukrainian Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, commander of the Defense Intelligence Directorate, told The War Zone how important ATACMS could be last week in an exclusive interview in Washington, DC, stating:

“The Russians just place command posts and other things beyond those distances so we don’t have anything to reach them there. And the situation is the same with Russian aviation at the airfields. Fighting Russian aviation using air defense systems is very costly and ineffective. Aviation should be taken out at the air bases.”

ATACMS – like the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) munitions already provided to Ukraine – can be fired by M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) provided to Ukraine. However, while the launchers can fire up to six GMLRS in one volley, they can only fire one ATACMS.

The modifications needed to convert the launchers to fire ATACMS are “not that much, some cables, some software — it’s not dramatic,” Bush told Bloomberg.

“We’re ready when and if the president decides to do this,” he said.

Bush declined to answer what percentage of the Army’s cluster-munition missiles might be sent to Ukraine, noting “certainly it’s a portion of it” but “I can’t say how much.”

Last month, Bush declined to tell The War Zone how many ATACMS of all variants are in U.S. stocks because that number is classified.

The Ukrainian Air Force claimed it destroyed 30 of 31 Shahed drones and one Iskander-K cruise missile launched by Russia on Tuesday.

“Today we did a good job in the Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv regions!” the Ukrainian Air Force said on its Telegram channel Tuesday.

The targets were destroyed by units of the 138th Dnipro anti-aircraft missile brigade, the 301st Nikopol anti-aircraft missile regiment of the Air Command East, the 160th anti-aircraft missile brigade of the Odesa Air Command South, fighter aircraft of the Air Force and mobile fire groups of the Defense Forces of Ukraine.

The Air Force released video of some of that air defense activity, which you can see below.

With Ukraine in dire need of ammunition to feed its artillery tubes, Denmark is contributing DKK 100 million ($14.05 million) for a joint European purchase of 155mm artillery ammunition, according to the Danish Foreign Ministry.

“The Ukrainians are still in a situation where they are acutely short of artillery ammunition. We must do something about that, and with this contribution, Denmark – in cooperation with a number of other EU countries – is taking responsibility for supplying Ukraine with 155 mm ammunition for their artillery,” said Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen. “Denmark will contribute to more joint purchases of ammunition and remains prepared to support Ukraine in the long run.” 

The procurement is carried out under the auspices of the European Defense Agency (EDA), which Denmark was admitted to in March. EDA expects the ammunition to be delivered in 2024.

The Wall Street Journal took a deep dive into the Ukrainian victory in the small village of Andriivka in Donetsk Oblast near Bakhmut.

It was an important, but costly win for Ukraine. As the Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate told us, it was part of an effort to pin down Russian forces and prevent them from reinforcing against the counteroffensive in the south.

The Journal interviewed several Ukrainian soldiers involved in that operation and painted a stark picture of the price paid for victory.

“The trenches were full of bodies. The ground was covered in bodies,” a soldier from the 3rd Brigade known as Billy, a hulking, clean-shaven 24-year-old, told the publication. “Most were Russians, but some were ours.”

As a result of scores of Ukrainian aerial drone strikes inside Russia and occupied Crimea, the Investigative Committee of Russia has charged four Ukrainian military leaders with committing terrorism.

The committee said on its Telegram channel Tuesday that it has collected “sufficient evidence of the involvement of the top military leadership of Ukraine in organizing and committing, from April 2022 to September 2023, more than 100 airstrikes using aircraft-type unmanned aerial vehicles in the territories of Moscow and the Moscow region, the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Rostov, Belgorod, Bryansk regions and a number of other regions of the Russian Federation.”

The committee charged Budanov; Lt. Gen. Mykola Oleshchuk, commander of Ukrainian Air Force; Vice Adm. Oleksii Neizhpapa, commander of the Ukrainian Navy; and Serhii Burdeniuk, commander of the Ukrainian drone regiment.

“In the near future, the investigation plans to put them on the wanted list and choose a preventive measure in the form of detention in absentia,” the committee said. “The Investigative Committee continues to work to record terrorist attacks and identify other persons involved in the commission of these crimes.”

The charges come just days after the latest Ukrainian drone attack inside Russia. A drone crashed in the Russian Black Sea port resort of Sochi, about 350 miles from the front lines. You can read more about that here.

Interestingly, the charges only involved aerial drones. There was no mention of the many uncrewed surface vessel attacks Ukraine has launched against Russian targets. Perhaps that’s an acknowledgment that the Kerch Bridge and Russian Navy ships are legitimate military targets.

Regardless, the news of the charges was greeted with enthusiasm by Budanov.

“As usual, I’m happy,” Budanov told us when we asked him about the charge. “It’s like a recognition of merit.”

The terrorism charge marks the second time this year Russia has taken legal action against Budanov.

In April, a Moscow court moved to arrest him in absentia in connection with the Oct. 8, 2022 attack on the Kerch Bridge.

“It’s a pleasure for me,” he told us at the time. It “shows that I work in the right way and in the future, I’ll work harder and with higher quality – to show that Moscow’s court was right.”

Speaking of Ukrainian drone strikes on Sevastopol, the occupation governor said there was another such attack Tuesday.

”The air defense system was operational in Sevastopol,” Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on his Telegram channel. “The Sevastopol rescue service has currently recorded information about the fall of parts of a UAV on the roof of one of the residential buildings in Inzhenernaya Balka. No harm done. But the falling parts of the drone broke glass in several apartments.”

Officials are still deciding how to dispose of the remaining explosive objects, he said.

“All forces and services continue to be on alert.”

Public transportation by sea and land was halted during the air raid, according to the Telegram channel of the official RIA Novosti state news agency.

Ukrainian force ambushed a Russian Typhoon transport truck at close range. In this video below, the truck is hit by a Ukrainian munition at the 26-second mark. Still smoking from the explosion, the truck pulls behind the remains of a farm building and about a dozen Russian soldiers get out and run into a field.

And finally, Ukraine’s special operations command (SSO) said after learning about the concentration of Russian forces behind the lines in Zaporizhzhia, it sent a reconnaissance squad in for observation.

Spotting a group of Russian troops, equipment and supplies, that squad called in an artillery attack. The SSO claimed that five Russian BMPs, two trucks and a field warehouse were destroyed in that attack.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.