Tens of thousands of fighters rounded up in Ukraine to fight for the Wagner Group, Russia’s private mercenary corps, are missing or dead, according to a Russian non-governmental organization.
While Wagner Group has recruited about 50,000 fighters in recent months, including from prisons, only 10,000 fighters remain at the front fighting for Wagner, Olga Romanova, Russia’s head behind bars, told My Russian Rights. The Moscow Times.
“According to our data 42-43 thousand [prisoners] were recruited at the end of December. Now it is most likely already over 50,000,” said Romanova. “Of these, 10,000 are fighting at the front, for the rest are either killed… or missing, or deserted, or have surrendered.”
The statistic cited is just the latest indication that Wagner’s force in Ukraine is falling apart, even as Russia tries to secure battlefield victories nearly a year after invading Ukraine.
Wagner Group fighters have been involved in fierce fighting in Soledar, a city where Russia has claimed victory, in recent weeks. Wagner has also been largely responsible for gains made in nearby Bakhmut “at an extraordinary expense” given that many of the Wagner recruits had had minimal training since Wagner recruited 40,000 convicts, John Kirby, a coordinator of the White House National Security Council, past reporters. week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also hinted at the dramatic losses the Russians are suffering in Soledar in a recent speech.
“The area near Soledar is covered with corpses of the invaders,” Zelensky said. “This is what madness looks like.”
The United States Department of Defense has also determined that the Russian forces and Wagner both suffered massive losses.
There are “significantly more than 100,000 now,” General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters last week. “The Russians have taken massive casualties in their military, and that includes their regular army and also their mercenaries, the Wagner Group, and other types of forces fighting with the Russians.”
There is some evidence that some of these losses may have been desertions. Earlier this month, a former member of the Wagner Group, Andrei Medvedev, was caught flying in Norway, the AFP reported. Medvedev, who has been arrested, is said to be the first member of Wagner to defect to the West, according to the BBC.
Medvedev has offered to share details of his experiences in the private group of mercenaries to expose war crimes for investigators, the AFP reported. He reportedly witnessed “executions of deserters” and “terrorist methods”.
The Biden administration announced last week that it is labeling the Wagner Group a “transnational criminal organization” in an effort to interrupt Wagner’s supply and ability to do business around the world.
“Wagner is a criminal organization that … commits widespread atrocities and human rights violations, and we will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose and target those who assist Wagner,” said Kirby of the National Security Council.
The news of Wagner’s break-up comes as the mercenary group is also having trouble with the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose army in Ukraine faltered due to logistical and command and control errors, has long leaned on the combat power of the Wagner Group to try to make up for the failures of Russian forces in Ukraine, according to a White House Review by the National Security Council. But Putin and Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin have been at odds in recent days, contradicting each other and mocking that their forces were responsible for Soledar.
Putin seems to have been trying to shift the weight of the Russian struggle back onto the military in recent weeks. The president shook up command of Russia’s armed forces earlier this month by promoting General Valery Gerasimov, apparently in an effort to add some momentum to Russia’s military strategy.
The recent uproar likely sidelined Wagner, according to the Institute for the Study of War.
“Putin’s decision to focus on and rely on conventional Russian forces marginalizes the Wagner Group and siloviki faction that nevertheless continues to contribute to Russia’s war effort in Ukraine,” the ISW said in an assessment this week.
Gerasimov began his work by trying to improve the discipline of Russia’s armed forces, according to a British government intelligence report shared Monday.
“Since he took command, officers have attempted to crack down on non-regulatory uniforms, travel in civilian vehicles, cell phone use and non-standard haircuts,” the intelligence agency said. “The measures have been received with skeptical feedback. However, some of the biggest ridicule is reserved for efforts to improve the quality of troop shaving.