Are Private Soldiers Using Inmates As “Cannon Fodder”? – New York Times reporter Thomas Gibbons-Neff reported in late September that the Wagner Group, a private military company that provides mercenaries who fight on behalf of the Russian military, is using released Russian prison inmates as cannon fodder on the frontlines in Ukraine.
In a report published before Ukraine successfully took back control of the city of Lyman, Gibbons-Neff compared two wildly different war environments in Ukraine. On the one hand, Lyman was occupied by a combination of reservists, regular Russian army forces, and separatists. In Bakhmut, however, most of the military presence consists of Wagner Group mercenaries, many of whom were using recently-deployed former prisoners as “cannon fodder.”
According to one Ukrainian soldier, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Wagner forces only conduct attacks to a certain point, and when the fighting gets tough, they send in the former inmates with little support to face Ukrainian defense forces.
“These tactics have left Ukrainian forces in the region with a flood of prisoners as the inmates frequently surrender,” the report explains, adding how another soldier said that Russian forces were not trading captured Ukrainian forces for inmates, considering the inmates as “deserters.”
It follows reports that Russian mercenaries had begun searching Russian prisons for reinforcements. Videos showed commanders telling Russian prisoners what to expect if they choose to fight in Ukraine, and promising a “get out of jail” card if they sign up to fight.
“After six months you receive a pardon, and there is no option for you to return to prison,@ Prigozhin says, adding that those who say they will fight but change their minds after arriving on the frontlines will be “shot.”
A video leaked to social media of how Putins' close confidant Yevgeny Prigozhin visits prisons to recruit men aged 22 to 50 for war against Ukraine.
He says war is hard but after 6 months of service, prisoners would be released. pic.twitter.com/vZ0uD5x3A9
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) September 15, 2022
Wagner Commander Killed In Donbas
Despite their best efforts to protect Wagner soldiers as the conflict in Ukraine intensifies, one senior commander of the Wagner Group was reportedly killed by Ukrainian forces on September 20.
41-year-old Alexei Nagin was reportedly killed in Bakhmut, part of the Donetsk Oblast. The commander had previously fought with Wagner forces in Georgia, Syria, Chechnya, and Libya. He was also reportedly taking part in a documentary about Wagner Group soldiers titled “The Best in Hell.”
It is unknown just how many Wagner Group soldiers have died in the Ukraine invasion so far, although the British Ministry of Defence said in July that the use of Wagner forces in Ukraine to reinforce the frontlines was wearing down the mercenary group.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.