President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has met with the former chief of staff of the Wagner group, the Kremlin said Friday, in a further sign that Moscow is working to assume control of what remains of the private military force after the death of its leader in a plane crash.
Mr. Putin assigned the former chief of staff, Andrei N. Troshev, with the task of forming volunteer units to perform combat missions for Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to a video clip of the Thursday evening meeting that the Kremlin published on Friday.
Without referring to Wagner by name, Mr. Putin added that Mr. Troshev “fought in such a unit for more than a year” and knows “how it’s done.” The mercenary group was a major force behind Russia’s battle for Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, and Mr. Putin’s televised meeting appeared designed to broadcast publicly the Kremlin’s aims of building successors to Wagner that would come under the government’s direct control.
Wagner fighters, some of whom were recruited from prisons in Russia, were considered “volunteers” in the war with Ukraine until June, when the Defense Ministry moved to integrate them into the broader military — which would have reduced the power of the group’s former leader Yevgeny V. Prigozhin. Soon after, Mr. Prigozhin launched a failed mutiny against Russian leadership.
Since the mutiny and Mr. Prigozhin’s death in August, the fate of Wagner has been unclear, though U.S. officials have said the Kremlin believes the group’s military prowess, experienced operators and ties to African governments are too valuable to give up. Mr. Putin signaled as much in his meeting with Mr. Troshev, telling him that state-sponsored support measures for veterans of the fight in Ukraine were also available to members of volunteer groups that fought there.
“Regardless of the status of the person who performs or has performed combat missions, social guarantees must be absolutely the same for everyone,” Mr. Putin said.
In the wake of the mutiny, some Wagner mercenaries had relocated to Belarus as part of a deal mediated by that country’s leader. A Ukrainian official said earlier this week that about 500 of them had returned to the front lines in eastern Ukraine after negotiating contracts with the Defense Ministry. The claim could not be independently verified.
Officials have told The New York Times that some soldiers within the company remained loyal to Mr. Prigozhin even after his death and the shuttering of the group, and did not want to be subsumed into Russia’s Defense Ministry.
Despite being a founding member of Wagner, Mr. Troshev appears to have come under the Kremlin’s wing. In July, Mr. Putin had suggested that Mr. Troshev, who is perceived as a more compliant deputy than Mr. Prigozhin, should become the new leader of Wagner.
Mr. Troshev is a veteran of wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya who uses the call sign “Sedoi,” or “Gray-haired.” According to European and United Kingdom sanctions documents, he provided “a crucial contribution to Bashar al-Assad’s war effort” and “repressed the civilian population in Syria.”
On Friday, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told RIA, a state media outlet, that Mr. Troshev already holds a position within the Defense Ministry.
Anton Troianovski contributed reporting.