February 9, 2023

Wagner mercenaries ‘completely stop’ recruiting prisoners for front line service

Institute for the Study of War

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin announced on February 9 that the Wagner Group has entirely stopped recruiting prisoners. In a response to a press comment, Prigozhin claimed that Wagner’s recruitment of prisoners has “completely stopped” and that “all obligations are being fulfilled” for those currently under Wagner’s employ.[1] Prigozhin also absurdly claimed that over 10 million Americans have applied to join Wagner.[2] The Wagner Group will likely continue to recruit from prisons, albeit in a much more limited capacity. As ISW has previously noted, Wagner’s recruitment of prisoners has slowed over the last few months, an assessment confirmed by statistics by the Federal Penitentiary Service that show that decreases in the Russian prison population stabilized between November 2022 and January 2023.[3] This phenomenon is consistent with the overall trend of conventional Russian troops slowly replacing the Wagner Group around Bakhmut, indicating that Russian military command may be shifting away from its reliance on Wagner and therefore on using prisoners as cannon fodder.

The Kremlin continues to pursue measures to gradually prepare Russia’s defense-industrial base for a protracted war in Ukraine while avoiding wider economic mobilization. Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with the Supervisory Board of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives on February 9 and instructed the agency to support federal subjects in developing the production of unmanned aircraft systems.[4] Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev previously stated that Russian military manufacturers intend to expand the supply of reconnaissance and attack drones to support operations in Ukraine, and Russian and Iranian officials are reportedly planning to build a factory in Russia to manufacture 6,000 drones “in the coming years.”[5]

Medvedev visited a tank manufacturing plant in Omsk Oblast on February 9 and stated that Russia needs to increase the production of various armaments, including modern tanks, in response to Western military assistance to Ukraine.[6] Dutch open-source group Oryx reported that Russian forces have lost 1,012 destroyed tanks in Ukraine with an additional 546 tanks captured by Ukrainian forces.[7] Oryx reported that these combined losses represent roughly half the tanks that Russian forces committed to Ukraine at the start of the invasion.[8] Fifteen hundred tanks are enough to equip more than 15 tank regiments or brigades or about 150 battalion tactical groups.[9] The Russian military needs to quickly replenish these tank losses to maintain the ability to conduct large-scale mechanized maneuver warfare ahead of a likely increased pace of offensive operations in eastern Ukraine. Medvedev likely framed his calls for increased production as a response to Western military assistance to obscure the fact that substantial military equipment losses are driving the need for increased production. The Kremlin’s efforts to gradually prepare Russia’s defense industrial base for a protracted war while avoiding a wider mobilization of the Russian economy continue to be incompatible with the scale of the war that the Russian military is fighting in Ukraine and the scale of Russian military equipment losses.

A prominent Wagner-linked Russian milblogger called for the dismissal of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over a Russian military uniform procurement scandal. Many prominent Russian military bloggers harshly criticized Shoigu and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) over news that the 22-year-old son of the Russian Deputy Head of the Federal Agency for State Property Management won a contract to supply the Russian military with new uniforms.[10] The milbloggers argued that the new uniforms are of inferior quality and overpriced (costing about 130,000-210,000 rubles or $1,780 – $2,875 per uniform) and are part of a petty corruption scheme to enrich the families of Russian defense officials. The Grey Zone Telegram channel—a prominent Wagner Group-affiliated milblogger – wrote an explicative-laden rant to its 426,000 subscribers that Shoigu has lost credibility in front of the Russian nation and that Russian President Vladimir Putin can amend the situation by firing Shoigu, Shoigu’s “entourage” in the Russian General Staff and banning Shoigu and his associates from all Russian military affairs.[11] This is the latest episode in a string of events that has prompted Russian military blogger communities to attack the Russian MoD and senior Kremlin officials for petty corruption and ineptitude resulting in battlefield failures and worse quality of life for average Russian soldiers.[12]

The Kremlin continues to show that it is unwilling to curb divisive rhetoric from ultranationalist pro-war figures. Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov publicly sparred with Duma Deputy General Viktor Sobolev following Sobolev’s criticism of Kadyrov’s statements on grooming standards in the Russian military being discriminatory against Muslims and calls for the Russian military to fight satanism in Poland.[13] Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on February 9 that the Kremlin is “not participating in this controversy and would not like to give any assessments” about it.[14] The Kremlin will continue to tolerate divisive rhetoric from ultranationalist figures as it seeks to appeal to the wider pro-war community.

Key Takeaways

  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin announced that the Wagner Group has entirely stopped recruiting prisoners.
  • The Kremlin continues to pursue measures to gradually prepare Russia’s defense industrial base for a protracted war in Ukraine.
  • A prominent Wagner-linked Russian milblogger called for the dismissal of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu over a Russian military uniform procurement scandal.
  • The Kremlin continues to illustrate that it is unwilling to curb divisive rhetoric from ultranationalist pro-war figures.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast and the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area and continued offensive operations around Bakhmut.
  • Russian forces conducted a limited ground attack in Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Russian sources claimed that the Russian military integrated a Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) volunteer formation into the Russian Armed Forces.
  • Russian sources claimed that Russian authorities detained a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group attempting to assassinate Russian occupation officials.
Share the Post: