After the Wagner mercenary group likely lost access to prisons for recruitment in recent weeks over disputes with the Russian Defense Ministry, it has pivoted to marketing to normal Russian citizens through high schools and sports centers, the UK Defense Ministry assessed in a Monday morning intelligence briefing.
"Since the start of March 2023, Wagner has set up outreach teams based in sports centers in at least 40 locations across Russia," said the Defense Ministry. "In recent days, masked Wagner recruiters also gave career talks in Moscow high schools, distributing questionnaires entitled ‘application of a young warrior’ to collect the contact details of interested pupils."
The Wagner Group's recruitment woes
In early February, The Jerusalem Post reported about advertisements for contracts being circulated on Wagner-affiliated social media.
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin had declared on February 9 that the private military company would cease the practice of enlisting convicts and offering them a pardon if they survived six months' service in Ukraine.
While Prigozhin indicated that the procedure which State Department spokesman Ned Price once blasted as "barbaric" was frozen to fulfill its current contracts, the UK Defense Ministry assessed on Monday that Wagner had lost access to prisons over ongoing disputes with Russian Defense Ministry leadership.
Like the rest of the private military and federation military bodies in Ukraine, there is intense competition for credit for success in the Ukraine theater between Wagner and the Defense Ministry. In Wagner-affiliated Telegram groups, users have complained about how they have at points been held back from fully seizing towns after doing much of the fighting so that the Russian military could take the town and the credit.
The competition has been more pronounced between Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry as Prigozhin has been publicly critical of officials like Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Prisons are not the only resource having been restricted to Wagner forces, who have also complained of being denied munitions.
At least 20,000 prisoners were recruited by Wagner to take part in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but in December Reuters reported that this could have been has high as 40,000.
"About half of the prisoners Wagner has already deployed in Ukraine have likely become casualties and the new initiatives are unlikely to make up for the loss of the convict recruit pipeline," assessed the UK Defense Ministry. "About half of the prisoners Wagner has already deployed in Ukraine have likely become casualties and the new initiatives are unlikely to make up for the loss of the convict recruit pipeline."
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine claimed on Monday morning that a train was sent to the Donetsk region with convicts, including female prisoners, to replenish forces. They did not provide further information such as which forces they alleged would be using these prisoners.