Wagner Group stops recruiting prisoners
The founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenaries has said its prison recruitment drive has ended, after thousands of inmates were sent to fight in Ukraine.
“The recruitment of prisoners” has “stopped completely”, Yegenvy Prigozhin said in a statement released by his press office.
The Kremlin-linked businessman himself personally toured Russian prisons last summer in Moscow’s last-ditch attempt to bolster its forces in Ukraine after suffering heavy losses.
The fighters who joined up with Wagner have been promised pardons if they survive their deployments. Some of those who were pardoned after they fought for six months were convicted murderers.
Mr Prigozhin on Thursday said all “obligations” towards prisoners who joined up with the group were being fulfilled.
Russian rights activists reported at the end of the year that Wagner’s recruitment drive had begun to dry up, partly because news of the group’s brutal treatment of its own men and the staggering number of casualties among recruited convicts reached the prisons.
Olga Romanova, head of the prison rights group Russia Behind Bars, earlier this week quoted sources at several Russian prisons as saying that Wagner’s recruitment drive has effectively ground to a halt.
Officials from the defence ministry have reportedly picked up the baton in recruiting the prisoners, however.
“Some representatives of the defence ministry have been working at the prison colonies starting last weekend,” she said on Wednesday.
“Now it’s just them who are taking people away to war. The first group of prisoners recruited by the ministry of defence left for the frontline from the colony in Kemerovo on Sunday.”
An estimated 40,000 convicts have been recruited from prisons and sent to fight in Ukraine since last summer, according to rights activists citing sources inside Russia’s prison network, as well as official statistics.
Wagner fighters, some of whom have been implicated in killings of civilians, have made rare battlefield gains for Russia, including the capture of the eastern salt-mining town of Soleder last month, while the regular Russian army has suffered embarrassing defeats across southern and eastern Ukraine.
Wagner has also played a key role in Russia’s assault on Bakhmut, with their relentless attacks helping to turn it into one of the bloodiest and most protracted battles of the war.