MOSCOW, Feb 9 (Reuters) – Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has stopped recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine, Wagner’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Thursday.
“The recruitment of prisoners by the Wagner private military company has completely stopped,” Prigozhin said in a response to a request for comment from a Russian media outlet published on social media.
“We are fulfilling all our obligations to those who work for us now,” he said.
Wagner began recruiting prisoners in Russia’s sprawling penal system in summer 2022, with Prigozhin, a catering entrepreneur who served nine years in prison during the Soviet Union, offering convicts a pardon if they survived six months in Ukraine.
Wagner has not provided information on how many convicts joined its ranks, but Russian penal service figures published in November showed the country’s prison population dropping by over 20,000 between August and November, the largest drop in over a decade.
In December, Reuters reported that the U.S. intelligence community believes that Wagner had 40,000 convict fighters deployed in Ukraine, making up the vast majority of the group’s personnel in the country.
The Wagner Group has in recent months played an increasingly prominent role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, with the mercenary force spearheading a months-long assault on the Donetsk region town of Bakhmut.