A former mercenary for the notorious Kremlin-affiliated Wagner Group claimed Russia was ill-prepared for its war in Ukraine, reports on Friday said.
Russia failed to take Kyiv despite weeks of attempts by Russian forces to attack the capital from three different directions.
Instead, Moscow is focusing its current efforts on eastern and southern Ukraine.
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“They were totally surprised that the Ukrainian army put up such fierce resistance and that they were facing a real army,” Marat Gabidullin told Reuters.
The former mercenary, now based in France, said Moscow underestimated Ukraine’s armed forces, which have been training with US and NATO troops since the 2014 Russian invasion.
“I told them, ‘Guys, this is a mistake,'” Gabidullin reportedly said after turning down a request to return to the group and fight in Ukraine.
Gabidullin fought with the Wagner Group on behalf of Moscow during missions in Syria and a previous conflict in Ukraine – although it is unclear if he supported Russian forces in the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The former mercenary claimed he turned down the offer because he disagreed with the Kremlin’s position on invading Ukraine this time.
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The Wagner Group is a paramilitary organization with known ties to the Kremlin, despite Moscow’s repeated claims that the Russian government is not linked to the group.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters he didn’t know about Gabidullin or if he had previously fought with the Wagner group.
“We, the state, the government, the Kremlin can have nothing to do with it,” he said.
Ukraine has reported that Russian troops have suffered heavy casualties and have even resorted to decades-old munitions such as “dumb bombs” as they struggle to re-equip their forces.
Russia has allocated around $66 billion to its defense budget in 2021, but the level of military aid being provided by US and NATO allies could pose problems for Moscow’s military success in Ukraine.
It’s unclear how much defense aid Russia has allocated to its war in Ukraine for fiscal year 2022.
But according to records of Russia’s defense budget, in the run-up to its 2014 invasion, Moscow ramped up its weapons in apparent preparation — a step it appears not to have done for its 2022 campaign.
Between 2010 and 2013, Russia increased its defense allocation by nearly $30 billion with a 2013 budget of over $88 billion.
But between 2015 and 2021 there was no significant increase in its defense budget, which was less than $66 billion in 2021.
Ukraine has warned Russia against another attempt around Kyiv.