Russia’s defence ministry has signed a contract with the Akhmat group of Chechen special forces, a paramilitary group waging the Kremlin’s offensive near the town of Mariinka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
The announcement came on Monday, a day after Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of Russia’s Wagner group of private mercenaries, refused to sign such a contract.
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The deals are part of a new Russian law aimed at controlling private armies fighting on Moscow’s behalf in Ukraine.
The order requires all “volunteer units” to sign contracts by July 1, bringing them under the control of the country’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The Kremlin says volunteer fighters would receive the same benefits as regular troops if they agree to the rules of the defence contract.
“I think this is a very good thing,” Akhmat commander Apty Alaudinov said after the group’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov accepted the offer.
He added that his group has “prepared and sent tens of thousands of volunteers” to Ukraine in the past 15 months.
So far, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington, DC-based think tank, Chechen fighters have operated in areas behind the front line following their involvement in bloody battles in Ukrainian cities, including Mariupol, Severodonetsk and Lysychanak.
But after fighting in Russia’s Belgorod intensified earlier this month, Kadyrov’s troops have likely been ordered to take a leading role in the fighting in Ukraine, ISW said.
Over the weekend, Prigozhin said his units “will not sign any contracts with Shoigu”.
“Shoigu can’t properly control military formations,” Prigozhin said in an audio message, published by his press service on Saturday.
The Wagner chief has repeatedly criticised Russia’s defence ministry, arguing that it does not provide enough support to his troops in Ukraine.
The Putin ally often unleashes foul-mouthed video tirades, in which he vehemently scoffs at Moscow’s military leadership.
Kadyrov has refrained from criticising the defence ministry.
Russia’s deputy chief of the general staff, Colonel General Alexei Kim, said after signing the agreement with the Chechens that he hoped other volunteer units would follow suit.