US official claims prisoners refuse to join Russian mercenary group

The Wagner Group, a private Russian paramilitary organization, has been completely unsuccessful in its effort to recruit 1,500 prisoners, with many refusing to join, a senior US defense official said Monday.

“Our information indicates that Wagner incurred significant losses in Ukraine, especially among young and inexperienced fighters,” the official told reporters, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

And the European Union imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group, accusing it of operating stealthily on behalf of Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin said the group does not represent the Russian state, but that private military contractors have the right to operate anywhere in the world as long as they do not violate Russian law.

The US official referred to recent videos on social media, which appear to show Yevgeny Prigozhin, whom the US Treasury and the European Union said the Wagner Group is linked to, trying to recruit convicts.

The video appeared to show Prigozhin trying to recruit Russian prisoners, as well as Tajiks, Belarusians and Armenians.

Reuters has not independently verified the videos on social media, although the BBC has confirmed that she was the leader of the Wagner Group.

Prigozhin himself is an oligarch and was previously called “Putin’s chef” as a result of dinner where he hosted the Russian president in his restaurants. He had previously denied having links with the mercenary organization.

Rights groups and the Ukrainian government accused Wagner Group fighters of committing war crimes in Syria and eastern Ukraine from 2014 onwards.

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