Russia’s Wagner group halts prisoner recruitment campaign

Russian military group Wagner has stopped recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine, its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said today.

“The recruitment of prisoners by the private military company Wagner has completely stopped,” Prigozhin said in response to a Russian media request for comment posted on social media. “We’re doing all the work we have with our current employers,” he said.

Wagner began bringing prisoners into Russia’s sprawling prison system in the summer of 2022, with Prigozhin, a food businessman who had served nine years in prison during the Soviet Union, serving these people are sentenced to parole if they live, six months in Ukraine. Wagner did not provide information on how many convicts have joined his group, but figures released by Russian prison officials in November showed that the country’s prison population fell by more than 20,000 between August and November, the biggest drop yet. in more than ten years.

According to figures released in January, the decline has largely stopped. In December, Reuters reported that US intelligence officials believe Wagner has 40,000 convicted soldiers in Ukraine, making the majority of the group’s operatives in the country.

The Wagner group has been playing an important role in Russia’s war with Ukraine in recent months, with mercenary forces leading months-long attacks on the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. Initially secretive, Wagner and his co-founder Prigozhin have taken an increasingly public profile in connection with the conflict in Ukraine, with Prigozhin criticizing Russian military leaders and some officials.

In January, Russian state media released footage of Prigozhin meeting with ex-soldiers convicted to end their stay in Ukraine and receive amnesty. In one video, Prigozhin was seen telling the fighters: “Remember that life gave you this opportunity: you escaped honor, you did not harm: you defended the motherland, you are ready to die inside 180 days ago.”.

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