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Infantry shortages on the battlefield in Ukraine have prompted the Kremlin-affiliated private force known as the Wagner Group to recruit Russian convicts as the flag of the armed forces.
British intelligence said on Friday that the mercenary group has been working since July to bolster Moscow’s ranks by going to Russian prisons to encourage volunteers to leave their cells and go to Ukraine.
“Prisoners have been offered commutations, as well as monetary incentives,” the British Ministry of Defense said in a daily briefing. “This has been revived, with a recently posted video most likely showing Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin giving a recruiting talk for inmates.”
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A video reportedly appeared on Telegram this week in which Prigozhin addresses prisoners, all wearing black prison uniforms, and emphasized that he was specifically looking for “assault unit fighters” to take up arms against Kiev.
“No one goes back behind bars,” Prigozhin told inmates, according to Yaroslav Trofimov of The Wall Street Journal. “If you serve six months, you are free. If you arrive in Ukraine and decide it is not for you, we will execute you.”
Prigozhin reportedly went on to say he couldn’t give “guarantees”, but pointed out that “only two other people can get you out of here, God and Allah, and they’ll put it in a wooden box.”
“I can get you out alive. But you may not survive,’ he added.
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The British Ministry of Defense said Russian academies had also begun to reduce the time their newest cadets were in training, saying they were likely going to the front lines.
“The impact of the Russian manpower challenge has become increasingly severe,” the ministry said. “The acceleration in officer cadet training and Wagner’s demand for assault troops suggests that two of the most critical shortages in the military crew crisis are likely combat infantry and junior commanders.”
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The latest attempts to get Russian boots to the front lines come as Ukrainian forces have made significant progress in the past two weeks since launching a major counter-offensive.
Western defense officials said their ability to advance quickly was due to a coordinated effort and strategic planning, coupled with Russia’s inability to properly resupply and regroup its forces in the north over the past six months.