Ukraine-Russia War: Wagner mercenaries lower standards for recruits - UK intel

Suffering severe casualties, Wagner has reportedly been forced to hire convicts and blacklisted individuals as new recruits, giving them all limited training.

 A service member of pro-Russian troops stands inside a residential building in Volnovakha (photo credit: REUTERS)
A service member of pro-Russian troops stands inside a residential building in Volnovakha
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Russia has been using Wagner mercenaries to reinforce their front lines in Ukraine and compensate for casualties and manpower shortages, but the private military company (PMC) has also been greatly lowering their standards and limiting training for their personnel, according to the latest UK defense intelligence update on Monday as the war stretches into its 145th day.

According to the UK, Russia has almost certainly used Wagner in a central role in the recent fighting in Ukraine's Donbas region, specifically regarding the captures of Popansa and Lysychansk.

Already, Russia has been experiencing severe casualties as a result of the war, with many reports having indicated at troops and officers are inexperienced and underequipped or older soldiers brought out of retirement.

Another way of making up for this has been Russia's use of Wagner mercenaries.

However, the ongoing fighting has also seen Wagner's own forces suffer heavy casualties and their own numbers seem to be dwindling.

Already, Wagner was employing retired Russian troops and their equipment and vehicles were reported to be older and out of date.

Now, however, Wagner is seemingly forced to compensate for this by shoring up their own numbers. According to the UK intelligence report, they are doing this by hiring people who were formerly blacklisted as well as convicts – something Ukraine has already accused them of doing.

According to Ukrainian intelligence, after signing and fulfilling the contracts with the PMC, convicts are promised full amnesty after six months of service. The report further claims that the crime committed by convicts is irrelevant, even if it is murder or other serious crimes.

Up to 10,000 volunteers are planned to be recruited within the next two months, according to the report. After that, the composition of the PMC will be redeployed to the territory of Donbas. One of the main tasks will be to establish control over the roads in the Izyum—Sloviansk—Bakhmut area, according to Ukrainian intelligence.

However, the UK intelligence report also claimed that the new recruits are given very limited amounts of training.

This is sure to further impact the already difficult battlefield effectiveness and cohesion of Russian forces and Wagner's newfound limitations may see them be less of a boost to the Russian regulars.

In addition, the head of the Wagner mercenaries, Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, was recognized as a Hero of the Russian Federation thanks to his mercenaries' operations in the Luhansk Oblast in Donbas.

 The US announced on March 3, 2022 they were imposing sanctions against Russian oligarchs, including Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as it targeted Russia's super-rich and others close to President Vladimir Putin, further ratcheting up financial pressure over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. (credit: FBI/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) The US announced on March 3, 2022 they were imposing sanctions against Russian oligarchs, including Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as it targeted Russia's super-rich and others close to President Vladimir Putin, further ratcheting up financial pressure over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. (credit: FBI/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

However, as the UK intelligence update notes, this all comes while senior Russian commanders are continuing to be replaced. As such, there is a high chance that this will breed resentment between the regular Russian military and Wagner and will cause a further decline in Russian morale.

Casualties

Russia has continued to suffer heavy losses in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

According to the latest figures put forth by the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on Monday, Russia has so far lost 38,450 soldiers, 849 artillery systems, 113 air defense systems, 248 MLRSs, 15 ships, 690 drones, 220 aircraft, 188 helicopters, 1,687 tanks, 3,886 armored vehicles and 2,753 fuel tanks and other vehicles.

However, due to the nature of the conflict, exact casualty figures on both sides of the war are impossible to ascertain.

Russia to prioritize Ukrainian missile capabilities

Also Monday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered the army to prioritize eliminating Ukraine's artillery and long-range missile systems, Russian media outlet RIA reported citing the Russian Defense Ministry.

Shoigu claimed that Ukrainian missiles and artillery have launched strikes on localities in the Donbas as well as grain fields and storage areas.

While the veracity of Ukrainian strikes on Donbas localities and grain areas is unclear, it does come amid a global grain shortage, which has widely been blamed on the ongoing war, and on Russia in particular. In fact, Russia has been accused of stealing grain.

Russia, however, has denied all accusations.

This is a developing story.

Roman Meitav contributed to this report.