Putin’s full-scale war destroying Russia’s own elite military force

Russian conscript in Belgorod region says men are in 'protest'

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Russia’s secretive paramilitary force known as the Wagner Group is reported to have suffered heavy attrition in Ukraine. Alongside Vladimir Putin’s desperate conscription drive, Wagner’s oligarch founder is known to be recruiting mercenaries straight out of Russia’s prisons as the fighting in Ukraine leaves the once-elite group short of men and morale. 

CNN’s Melissa Bell reported: “[Wagner] has had to recruit not just those battle-hardened, experienced men that they’ve sought from their theatres of action in Africa at the beginning of the war, but rather they have filled their ranks with people who simply aren’t doing that same sort of fighting. 

“Of course, that has made a massive difference to their ability to make a difference on the ground.

“They simply aren’t what they were when this war began, they are not the fighting force that was meant to be functioning inside a full-scale war and Ukraine, it turns out has taken its toll not just on the wider regular army but also on Wagner itself.

“So there are these two recruiting drives, one is from the Russian state, it is, of course, obligatory the money is less than within Wagner, Wagner is voluntary, they are paying more.

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“Yet on the ground, of course, what they’re finding is that it is not that many Russians that are choosing to sign up hence the recruitment drives in the Russian prisons.”

Wagner, staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali and other countries.

It was founded in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and started supporting pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

The United States has accused Russian mercenaries on Thursday of exploiting natural resources in the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan and elsewhere to help fund Moscow’s war in Ukraine, a charge Russia rejected as “anti-Russian rage.”

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US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the Wagner Group are exploiting natural resources and “these ill-gotten gains are used to fund Moscow’s war machine in Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine.”

“Make no mistake: people across Africa are paying a heavy price for the Wagner Group’s exploitative practices and human rights violations,” Thomas-Greenfield told a UN Security Council meeting on the financing of armed groups through illicit trafficking of natural resources in Africa.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group recently broke ranks to openly criticise Russia’s military top brass after a series of defeats on the battlefield in Ukraine

Prigozhin ridiculed generals, saying the military was riddled with nepotism and that senior officers should be stripped of their ranks and sent to the front barefoot to atone for their sins.


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Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, one of Putin’s closest allies, was appointed in 2012. So close was their relationship that the two men regularly spent holidays together in the forests and mountains of Shoigu’s native Tuva.

Many Russian nationalists have repeatedly criticised Shoigu and his top generals for everything from poor planning and shallow logistics to ruinously outdated tactics and losing the information war despite massive investment under Putin.

In the last week, two retired generals now serving as members of the State Duma from Putin’s United Russia party have added their voice to the chorus of criticism, accusing the defence ministry of corruption and dishonesty.

Most of all, though, critics blame Shoigu’s ministry for losing the key battles for Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lyman and in the Kherson region.

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