Russia uses Libyan, Syrian mercenaries, US Senior Defense official confirms

Neither the exact number of fighters nor their location has been confirmed, the official said.

 A view shows a graves of a civilian killed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 3, 2022. A grave board reads: "Kolesnikov Anatoly Ivanovich". (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
A view shows a graves of a civilian killed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 3, 2022. A grave board reads: "Kolesnikov Anatoly Ivanovich".
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Russia has reportedly been using mercenaries from Libya and Syria, according to a transcript published by the US Defense Department on Wednesday.

The transcript quotes a senior defense official saying that the Wagner Group "has been operating in the Donbas and that they have recruited from places like Syria and Libya and that they use Syrian and Libyan fighters."

Neither the exact number of fighters nor their location has been confirmed, the official said.

The Wagner Group, which first became active during Russia annexation of Crimea in 2014, has been consistently accused of war crimes and human rights abuses, according to a BBC investigation into the organization. The report also states that GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, funds the organization.

However, the Russian government has denied any connection to the Wagner Group, which also operated in some parts of Africa and Syria.

 People walk their bikes across the street as smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 2, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO) People walk their bikes across the street as smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 2, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Several sources also reported on Wednesday that the group is allegedly linked to multiple civilian massacres in Mali. Wagner members in the country are regarded as "Russian instructors," according to a report by The Guardian citing internal Malian army documents.