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The lack of infantry on the battlefront in Ukraine prompted a Kremlin-linked special military force known as the Wagner Group to recruit Russian convicts as its flag.
British intelligence said, on Friday, that the mercenary group has been working since at least July to strengthen the ranks of Moscow by heading to Russian prisons to motivate volunteers to leave their cells and head to Ukraine.
The British Ministry of Defense said in a daily briefing: “Prisoners were offered reduced sentences as well as financial incentives.” “This has been reactivated, as it is very likely that a recently published video showing Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin trying to recruit prisoners.”
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Reportedly, a video clip that appeared on Telegram this week shows Prigozhin addressing the prisoners, all in black prison uniforms, and confirming that he was specifically looking for “fighters for assault units” to take up arms against Kyiv.
“No one goes back behind bars,” Prigozhin told guests, according to Yaroslav Trofimov, the Wall Street Journal. “If you serve six months, you are free. If you come to Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we execute you.”
Prigozhin reportedly went on to say he couldn’t offer any “guarantees” but noted that “only two more people can get you out of here, God and God, and they will do it in a wooden coffin.”
“I can get you out alive. But you may not survive,” he added.
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Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russian academies were also beginning to reduce the time their new students stayed in training and said they were more likely to go to the front lines.
“The impact of the workforce challenge in Russia is becoming increasingly severe,” the ministry said. “The acceleration of officer training and Wagner’s ordering of assault forces suggests that two of the most serious shortcomings in the military employment crisis may be combat infantry and junior commanders.”
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The latest attempts to bring Russian soldiers to the front lines come as Ukrainian forces have made significant progress in the past two weeks since launching a major counterattack.
Western defense officials said their ability to advance quickly is due to a coordinated effort and strategic planning, along with Russia’s inability to properly resupply and regroup its forces in the north over the past six months.