The announcement of the Russian private military organization to stop recruiting prisoners to participate in the military operation in Ukraine could be a sign of a change in tactics.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian private military organization Wagner, announced on February 9 that Wagner had completely stopped recruiting prisoners to this organization. The Russian oligarch did not give any reason for the decision, but it could signal a change in tactics by Russian and Wagner forces in Ukraine.
Wagner members have accompanied the main Russian army on many missions and played a large role in the campaigns to take control of cities in Ukraine.
Several reasons were given to explain Wagner’s decision to stop recruiting, including a decrease in the number of prisoners registered for war, the Russian Ministry of Defense may have intervened, or the military operation in Ukraine may have caused Wagner’s finances to be in trouble. In addition, Prigozhin may have been informed that Wagner’s tactics no longer align with Russia’s priorities on the battlefield.
Wagner began recruiting Russian prisoners in the summer of 2022. Wagner is said to have recruited 40,000-50,000 prisoners from prisons across Russia, however, the number of prisoners recruited to participate in the military campaign. has decreased recently. Figures recently released by the Russian Prison Service show that the number of prisoners in prisons decreased by only 6,000 between November 2022 and January 2023, much lower than the decrease of 23,000 prisoners. for the period from September to October 2022.
In December last year, Reuters reported that the US intelligence community estimated Wagner had 40,000 fighters deployed in Ukraine, making up the majority of the organization’s forces.
According to lawyers and human rights activists, it was the prisoners who ended a six-month war contract with Wagner that may have prevented new prisoners from joining. Among these warriors, many were wounded. They returned home and recounted the horrific casualties Wagner’s forces had suffered during the fierce fighting with Ukraine.
In addition, the campaign to recruit prisoners to war in Ukraine drained Wagner’s finances. Prigozhin’s companies must buy weapons and other equipment for recruited prisoners, and train them in military camps in Russia and Russian-controlled territories in eastern Ukraine, before handing them over to the front line.
For the plan to recruit prisoners to work, leader Wagner must gain the consent of the Russian prison authority, the Interior Ministry, and other agencies. However, this consent may have been withdrawn because Mr. Prigozhin sparked a confrontation with the Russian military agency over its involvement in the war in Ukraine.
Wagner’s way of conducting military operations may no longer be in line with the plans of the Russian Defense Ministry. Several Wagner fighters said their units never had any interaction with regular Russian forces, even with Russian artillery support for some of Wagner’s attacks.
Wagner’s forces achieved some achievements such as controlling the small cities of Soledar and the abandoned villages around Bakhmut in Eastern Ukraine, however, this was achieved with artillery support from the armed forces. regular Russian forces and cost hundreds of casualties in each battle.
As Russian forces prepare for a large-scale offensive in the spring, it remains unclear how Wagner’s ill-equipped force might engage in the operation. The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said last week that the drop in Wagner’s prisoner recruitment campaign could be a sign that the Russian Defense Ministry intends to cheat. Wagner is out of future offensive campaigns.