Experienced mercenaries from private Russian companies are in Ukraine and helping to support the invasion, the UK’s Ministry of Defence has said.
Private Military Companies (PMCs) are “likely deploying to fight in Ukraine”, the MoD has said in an intelligence update.
In a statement, it said: “The Russian state almost certainly maintains extensive links with Russian PMCs, despite repeated denials.”
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Two days ago the Ukraine military confirmed there had been clashes near Kyiv with members of the private military company Liga, formerly known as Wagner.
The group is believed to be funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close links to Vladimir Putin.
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Officials are concerned that Russia is planning to use violence to control the Ukrainian population.
A European official said that Russia was considering “aggressive measures” including “violent crowd control, repressive detention of protest organisers” and even public executions.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told MPs that Russia’s use of the Wagner Group is a sign of the Kremlin’s “desperation”.
The group has been accused by Western governments and analysts of human rights abuses in Africa and involvement in the conflicts in Syria and Libya.
Mr Wallace said the group was “responsible for all sorts of atrocities in Africa and the Middle East. And the fact that Russia is now trying to encourage them to take part in Ukraine, I think, is a telling sign.”
The Wagner Group gained prominence in 2014, when it was fighting with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Mr Prigozhin has always denied any connection with Wagner, while the Russian government denies any involvement with the group while also maintaining it does not legally exist because private military contractors are illegal in Russia.
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