The Wagner Group may be leading recruitment efforts by turning to familiar allies
By Peter Aitken
Russia has been forced to turn to other rogue nations and some unexpected sources in an effort to continue its invasion of Ukraine due to a lack of weapons and troops.
Analysts predicted that Russia’s invasion would only last a few days or weeks because they believed their military to be superior and to have a huge advantage in manpower. However, nine months later, Moscow has started looking for supplies of weapons and troops from other nations.
According to Rebekah Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting and a former DIA intelligence officer, “Russia clearly wasn’t prepared for the nine-month slog that it’s fighting in Ukraine now.” Putin believed it would take one to two weeks to complete, and Russian intelligence miscalculated Zelenskyy’s capacity to rally Western support, Ukrainians’ willingness to fight, the U.S. and Europe’s willingness to offer unprecedented levels of security assistance, and the tactical limitations of the Russian forces.
In the thirty years since the fall of the Soviet Union, experts have previously told Fox News Digital about how “rampant” corruption has undermined Russia’s military, with oligarchs allegedly pocketing the money rather than investing it in the military.
And Ukraine bolstered its own supplies with heavy investment from the U.S. and its NATO allies, helping to level the battlefield for months and allowing Ukraine to push Russian forces back. Russian President Vladimir Putin had to withdraw his troops to the eastern border and focus on locking down “rebel” states in Ukraine after failing to take any major strategic target.
But now Russia has started to build its own coalition of allies, even as those allies try to keep their support quiet.
“Russia has already fired on the order of 3,000-4,000 missiles in Ukraine, more than expected, with hundreds of missiles launched in the last two weeks targeting Ukrainian critical infrastructure to disrupt electricity and water supplies ahead of winter,” Koffler explained. She added that “Russia’s missile arsenal is almost certainly depleting,” and current inventory is “probably” below 40% of pre-war levels.
The U.S. on Wednesday accused North Korea of secretly supplying Russia with artillery shells, and reports over the past month detailed how Iran first supplied Russia with Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drones and then trained Russian troops in their use. New reports indicate that Iran added Mohajer-6 as well as Shahed-129 drones to its shipments.
White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby told a virtual briefing that North Korea had attempted to hide the shipments by sending them through countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Reuters reported.
“Our indications are that the DPRK is covertly supplying and we are going to monitor to see whether the shipments are received,” Kirby said, adding that Washington would consult with the United Nations on accountability issues over the shipments.
“We do have a sense on where they are going to transfer these shells,” Kirby said. He declined to give any more details as the U.S. weighs its possible options. But he insisted that the weapons would not likely change the momentum or outcome of the war.
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) reported that Iran may even increase its support and provide Russia with short-range ballistic missiles, a move that indicates any economic relief Tehran would gain through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — also known as the Iran nuclear deal — would end up funding Russia’s war and undercut U.S. sanctions.
“With reports that Iran plans to send short-range ballistic missiles to Russia to use against Ukraine — and as the people of Iran cry out in the streets for a change in regime — the U.S. and its European allies should withdraw all sanctions relief offers made to Tehran and complete the snapback of U.N. sanctions at the Security Council,” Richard Goldberg, a senior advisor at the FDD, wrote in an analysis published Wednesday.
The transfer would include Fateh-110 and Zulfiqar short-range ballistic missiles. The Fateh-110 can reach a distance of 150-180 miles, while the Zulfiqar could potentially reach targets within 435 miles.
Iran already sent over 3,500 drones to Russia, with most of the units produced in factories operated by the Iranian Ministry of Defense and the Iranian Aviation and Space Industries Association (IASIA).
Weapons alone will not win the war as Putin also looked to replenish his depleted forces. After months of silence about the true number of casualties, both CIA Director William Burns and British Intelligence Chief Richard Moore indicated that Russia lost around 15,000 troops over the first five months of the invasion.
“We’ve seen for months now attempts by Russia to recruit sort of their own version of the foreign legion, of particular communities by the Wagner Group in the field from Syria, from Libya, from the Central African Republic,” Goldberg told Fox News Digital. “We’ve heard reports of Serbians, as well, fighting on the pro-Russia side.”
“[One of] the main motivations for doing this for the Russians is they’re quickly depleting their own forces,” Goldberg explained. “They are moving into reserve call-ups, and they don’t want to have to continue taxing the Russian population wherever possible.
“So to the extent that they can lean on foreign troops to do the work, to have non-Russians fighting and dying rather than Russian bodies coming home to their families, that’s their preference,” he added, noting that Putin is seeking “low-cost, high-impact systems.”
Putin announced a “partial mobilization” in an effort to restock his forces through forced enlistment, but many Russian men chose to leave their homeland rather than fight in Putin’s conflict in Ukraine.
In the early stages of the conflict in Ukraine, Russia had already attracted Chechen fighters after it became apparent that more dedication would be needed to win the war than Putin had anticipated.
Over the ensuing months, rumors of Russia contacting friendly countries to request reinforcements began to circulate. In April, The New York Times reported that Putin had considered using fighters from Georgia and Syria to bolster his forces.
Additionally, a number of military and security sources in Afghanistan claimed last week that elite National Army Commando Corps soldiers began enlisting in Russian forces after the United States withdrew its 20,000–30,000-strong force as part of a military drawdown.
As many as 10,000 of the former commandos were initially inclined to accept Russia’s offer, Foreign Policy reported.
Goldberg likened Russia’s growing coalition to Ukraine’s International Legion, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy established at the start of the conflict. It drew 20,000 volunteers from 52 countries in the first week.
“Moscow is running low both military hardware and personnel, having to fill the gaps with non-indigenous capabilities. It’s procuring weapons from Iran and North Korea and is relying on the mercenary contingent, the Wagner Group, the Chechen fighters, Kadyrov, to replenish its regular forces,” Koffler said. “They are even recruiting prisoners and bringing in former Afghan security forces, who were displaced as the Taliban came back to power, after the U.S. withdrawal.
“Despite all of these limitations, Putin will not back down. To the contrary, he is preparing for an all-out fight with the U.S. and NATO and switching to asymmetric strategy.”
Reuters contributed to this report.