Wagner Group props up Russia’s Ukraine war with ex-inmates
The Wagner Group has deployed almost 20,000 personnel in Ukraine, according to UK intelligence, as the Kremlin grows increasingly dependent on the mercenary organisation to support Russia’s invasion.
Western intelligence sources estimate Russia has lost tens of thousands of troops while Vladimir Putin launched a recruitment drive in September.
The powerful head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has struck fear into Russian oligarchs with calls for “urgent Stalinist repression” against business chiefs who are insufficiently enthusiastic about the Ukraine war. He is suspected to have directly criticised Russian military commanders to Putin.
The Wagner Group, previously a shadowy organisation, is now actively promoting its role in Ukraine. But UK sources say the group has traded “quality for quantity” and is facing similar challenges and fighting losses to the Russian military.
After years of denying any links to Wagner, Prigozhin admitted in September that he founded the mercenary group in 2014.
In March Wagner was estimated to have in excess of 1,000 personnel in Ukraine but now numbers exceed 20,000, or around 10 per cent of Russian ground forces. US estimates put the number far higher at almost 50,000 since March, representing around a quarter of invading troops in Ukraine.
Wagner has been recruiting Russian prison inmates. UK government source estimated that Russia’s prison population fell by more than 23,000 during October and November. Those who desert or fail to follow orders are reportedly executed.
Prisoners have been offered wages and have their sentences commuted after six months in Ukraine. Wagner claims to pay compensation to the families of those killed in action but some relatives say they have received nothing.
Wagner previously claimed to recruit veterans from units like Russian military intelligence (the GRU) and special forces but UK sources say Wagner is now “far from an elite force”.
A smear campaign is aiming to undermine Prigozhin’s credibility.
In 1981, Prigozhin was sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of aggravated robbery and burglary. He served nine years and was released in 1990 ahead of the fall of the Soviet Union.
A video alleges Prigozhin was sexually abused by other inmates at his prison near St Petersburg. The accusation could undermine his authority.
Russian prisoners who play a passive role in sexual abuse are called petukhi (roosters) and form an underclass. Other inmates are forbidden to speak to or to stand near them and they are assigned the worst jobs, such as cleaning toilets.
An online video of a man covered in tattoos calling himself crime chief Sasha Kurara said Prigozhin performed oral sex on him and other inmates. “He knew his place and he agreed to his place,” Kurara said. “He is a f***ing faggot, a petukh, and anyone who goes into Wagner is a faggot too.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin and Putin. Picture credit: YouTube