Wagner Group claims to have stopped recruiting prisoners for war against Ukraine

Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has “completely stopped” recruiting prisoners to fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, Wagner founder Evgenii Prigozhin said on Feb. 9.

Prigozhin’s claim comes nearly half a year after Wagner began recruiting prisoners in mid-2022, whom, according to their contract, are offered an official pardon if they serve six months on the battlefield.

While Wagner Group forces were largely responsible for the capture of Soledar and other areas around Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast, evidence points to high casualties and other internal issues.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a D.C.-based think-tank analyzing the war in Ukraine, said that conventional Russian forces began replacing the exhausted Wagner mercenaries after capturing the salt-mining town of Soledar.

Investigations by the New York Times and Reuters have revealed that the Wagner has suffered extremely high casualties in Ukraine.

Last week, the U.K. Defense Ministry also acknowledged that the scale of Wagner’s recruitment of prisoners to fight had "probably significantly reduced" compared to its peak between the summer and fall 2022.

In late January, Olga Romanova, head of Russia Behind Bars, a nonprofit that protects the rights of convicts, recently said that only 10,000 of the nearly 50,000 mercenaries recruited into Wagner had remained in service – suggesting that the rest had deserted or had been killed or wounded.

The U.S. has designated Wagner Group as a “significant transnational criminal organization” and imposed sanctions on its support network worldwide.