Live updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine
Private military contractor Wagner will have to find a new one combat aircrafts Its boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said outside of Russia’s prison system, a fertile ground of recruitment for the past nine months.
“We have completely stopped recruiting prisoners to Wagner PMC,” Prigozhin said on his company Telegram channel on Thursday. The people who work for us are now fulfilling all their obligations.”
The Russian oligarch did not give any reason for this decision, but there are several plausible explanations for the change of tactics. The recruit group may have dwindled, the Ministry of Defense may have intervened, or the campaign may have strained Prigozhin’s finances. Alternatively, Prigozhin may have been informed that his ways of war no longer align with Russian priorities on the battlefield.
After enrolling between 40,000 and 50,000 inmates from prisons across Russia, the number of volunteers from prisons may have shrunk to the point where the campaign is no longer being carried out.
Figures just released by the Russian Courts Service may support that. They show that prison numbers fell by 6,000 between November and January, compared with a drop of 23,000 inmates between September and October last year.
Captured warriors: This week CNN spoke with two Wagner warriors who were recruited from Russian prisons and fought on the front lines in Ukraine before being captured.
They say dozens of inmates, some with just a few weeks left of their prison terms, signed up after Prigozhin visited in August and September. They say he arrived at their prison by helicopter and make bold promises of pay and other benefits, as well as pledge that their criminal records will be cleared.
CNN was unable to independently confirm the claims. Interviews were conducted in the presence of Ukrainian security officers, but captured fighters spoke highly of their experience with Wagner. (CNN told the inmates they have the right to stop the interview at any time. CNN will not reveal their identities.)
Read full analysis This.