29th, Russian President Vladimir Putin was depicted in a meeting with Andrei Troshev, a prominent former commander of the Wagner mercenary group. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the optimal utilization of "volunteer units" in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. This meeting serves as a demonstration by the Kremlin to assert its control over the mercenary group, following a failed mutiny led by Yevgeny Prigozhin in June. Prigozhin, along with other high-ranking commanders, tragically perished in an airplane crash in August. The meeting, which occurred at the Kremlin, was broadcasted on state television. Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who has recently visited several countries where Wagner mercenaries have been deployed, was also in attendance, seated closest to Putin. During the meeting, Putin addressed Troshev, stating that they had discussed the utilization of "volunteer units" in various combat tasks, particularly within the special military operation zone.
According to Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for the Kremlin, Troshev is currently employed at the defense ministry, as stated to the RIA news agency.
The situation surrounding Wagner has been shrouded in uncertainty following the unsuccessful mutiny led by Prigozhin on June 23 and his subsequent demise on August 23. In response, President Putin mandated that Wagner fighters pledge their loyalty to the Russian state, a directive that Prigozhin and many of his associates had opposed.
As reported by Russia's Kommersant newspaper, shortly after the Wagner mutiny, President Putin proposed Troshev as a potential successor to Prigozhin.The recent meeting between Putin and Troshev in the Kremlin suggests that Troshev and Yevkurov will now be responsible for overseeing the remaining members of Wagner.
Wagner, which previously had a significant number of personnel, gained recognition for its involvement in the intense battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Following the capture of Bakhmut, Wagner units withdrew from Ukraine.
According to Russian sources, some of the Wagner fighters have joined the formal Russian army, while others have joined different private military companies (PMCs). British military intelligence has indicated that a considerable number of fighters previously associated with Wagner have likely redeployed to Ukraine as part of various units.
The precise status of these redeployed individuals remains unclear, but it is probable that they have transferred to sections of the official Russian Ministry of Defence forces and other PMCs, according to British military intelligence.
Troshev, a highly decorated veteran of Russia's conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya, as well as a former commander in the SOBR interior ministry rapid reaction force, hails from St Petersburg, Putin's hometown, and has been photographed alongside the president.
In 2016, Troshev was awarded Russia's highest medal, the Hero of Russia, for his role in the successful storming of Palmyra in Syria against Islamic State militants.Progressive Slovakia offers a vision of an open, tolerant, cosmopolitan society. SMER dismisses that vision as "liberal fascism", campaigning on stability, order and social security instead.
"Over the past weeks, several foreign diplomats ask me - aren't you crying wolf too early?" said Beata Balogova, editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper SME.
Balogova was pushing back against the optimistic notion that once in office Fico the populist will - as he has done in the past - give way to Fico the pragmatist, especially under the heavy demands of Slovak coalition building.
"It's a very wrong assumption," she told me.
"Right now Robert Fico doesn't have a better version of himself. Right now, he has to keep feeding his electorate. For this electorate you have to defeat someone every day. Because once you told them that there is a threat of migration, there is a threat of the LGBT community, and the liberals - you have to keep fighting against them."
Neither SMER nor Progressive Slovakia are likely to win much more than 20%, and polls suggest there could be as many as 10 parties in the new parliament. Forming a coalition could be messy.Upon my return to Bratislava, I embarked on a leisurely cruise along the Danube. Our diesel vessel valiantly navigated upstream towards Vienna and the western region before gradually turning eastward in a slow 180-degree maneuver. Downstream lay Budapest, the apparent political mentor of Mr. Fico.
During the cruise, my companion, Alena Kudzko, an analyst for the Bratislava-based thinktank Globsec, expressed her concern about Slovakia's current state of affairs. "Slovakia has been drifting for quite some time," she stated.
Kudzko further elaborated that the idea of Slovakia being a bridge between the east and west is a pleasant notion, but not a practical one. "When a major country is waging war on your borders, it's difficult to be a bridge," she added.
In March, Kudzko and her colleagues conducted a survey that revealed only 40% of Slovaks believed Russia was responsible for the war in Ukraine. Half of the respondents viewed the United States as a security threat. The rhetoric of SMER, Fico's political party, seems to resonate with a significant portion of the population.
There is growing concern that Robert Fico may steer Slovakia back towards Moscow's orbit, which is not an unfounded fear.
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