Wagner’s fighters were filmed in Ukraine bringing their wounded commander to a warehouse then beating him with shovels.
Russian private military company Wagner has stopped recruiting convicts from prisons to fight in Ukraine, according to a statement by the group’s owner.
A former senior NATO intelligence official told VICE World News that significant battlefield losses in Ukraine made it difficult for Wagner to recruit from prison.
Wagner enlisted some 40,000 prisoners for Russia’s war in Ukraine, along with 10,000 contract fighters.
“The recruitment of prisoners by Wagner’s private military company has been completely stopped,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s boss said on social media in response to requests for comment from Russian media outlets.
Wagner, which played a key role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for nearly a year, has been designated an international criminal group by the US Treasury for its activities in Ukraine and more than 20 other countries for human rights. abuse, killing, and plundering of natural resources. It is suspected that Wagner’s soldiers were involved in war crimes such as the killing of civilians.
Earlier this week drone footage emerged of four Wagner soldiers beating their own commander with shovels on a battlefield in the Russian-occupied Donbas region of Ukraine. There is no evidence to suggest that Prigozhin’s decision was prompted by a video of the shovel attack.
The former NATO intelligence official currently helping investigate Wagner for sanctions violations and war crimes told VICE World News it was unclear what the shift meant in Russia’s internal dynamics.
“There are unconfirmed reports that the Ministry of Defense is taking over prisoner recruitment from Wagner, but there are also clear signs that the heavy casualties and mistreatment of contract prisoners has made it difficult for Wagner to recruit,” said the former official, who could not be identified. because of the sensitive nature of their work.
With the Russian military facing heavy losses in its invasion of Ukraine, with more than 100,000 fatalities and total military equipment lost since last February, Wagner began recruiting inmates from across Russia’s prisons, including murderers and rapists, offering pardons in exchange for six months. service on the front line. The prisoners were used in a brutal and costly frontal assault against Ukrainian positions around the contested town of Bakhmut.
But since prisoners helped replace its lost troops, Russia has mobilized the more than 300,000 conscripts it sent to training last year, making it less reliant on Wagner to supply prisoners.
Prigozhin and Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov appear to have forged a hardline political alliance in a bid to impress Russian President Vladimir Putin. They often pursue open competition with the Russian army and defense agencies.
Wagner has long served as an unassailable force for Russia in the Middle East and Africa, but his value in the invasion of Ukraine led the Russian state to openly embrace mercenary companies, even allowing a recruiting center and office in St Petersburg regardless of Russian law. prohibited its citizens from working as mercenaries.
“Someone wished for this [decision to stop recruiting prisoners] is a sign Prigozhin has lost leverage with the boss and that his rivals in the army are pushing him aside,” said the former NATO official. “Internal competition makes fighting these gangsters [in Wagner] easier and strengthened the hand of Ukraine.”