Wagner Group Losing Putin’s support? Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian private mercenary group Wagner, admitted this week that the number of prisoners recruited by his private organization will drop.
“The number of Wagner units will decrease and we will also not be able to carry out the scope of tasks that we would like to,” Prigozhin said. “You have all heard that the recruitment of prisoners to our ranks have stopped.”
The comments, which followed an official announcement, bring to an end Wagner’s tactic of recruiting murderers, rapists, and other dangerous criminals and offering them clemency in exchange for fighting for a period of time in Ukraine. Many of the prisoners recruited ultimately perished on the battlefield, though some groups of recruits have already survived their time on the battlefield and have since been released in Russia.
Prigozhin did not explain why Wagner will not continue to send prisoners into Ukraine to fight, or why there will be fewer Wagner units on the battlefield.
Wagner Group in Trouble?
Prigozhin didn’t offer an explanation, but that alone could indicate that the decision was not one he made easily.
The announcement follows weeks of tension between the Russian president, military officials, and even the Wagner chief, Putin under pressure for not providing soldiers with the equipment, resources, and food they need to effectively fight in Ukraine.
Despite Wagner’s successes on the battlefield, with Prigozhin taking credit for Russia’s victory in the city of Soledar, a rift has been growing between the Kremlin and Wagner.
Prigozhin has repeatedly lauded his soldiers as the most capable on the battlefield, and despite being hugely influential in Russia’s victory in annexing Crimea in 2014, the Russian president has been slowly replacing Wagner soldiers with professional military soldiers trained by the Russian Armed Forces.
It’s a message to Prigozhin that Putin started this war and can complete it without him – and it would also explain why Russian officials are moving ahead with plans to recruit and train an additional 500,000 Russian troops.
It may be the case that Putin is making a point, but it could also be true that Wagner’s approach – which includes sending out ill-equipped and untrained former prisoners onto the frontlines as cannon fodder – is not as effective as Wagner believes it to be.
For Putin, real soldiers fighting tactically may be much more valuable than prisoners sent to die.
Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor. He 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.