Mercenaries were killed or wounded in the war. White House estimates death toll at about 9,000, most of them convicts recruited by the group from prisons in Russia.

(DW) The United States estimates that the Wagner Group – a private paramilitary organization with strong ties to the Kremlin – has suffered more than 30,000 casualties, among dead and wounded, since the start of the war in Ukraine, the White House reported Friday (Feb. 17). The mercenaries are fighting alongside Russia in the conflict.

The US estimates that about 9,000 mercenaries from the group have died in the conflict. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby indicated that half of the deaths have occurred since mid-December last year as the battle in Bakhmut in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine intensified.

“They are using their conscripts, most of them convicts, as a cannon fodder, they are literally throwing them into a meat grinder,” he stated. Kirby added that based on U.S. intelligence information, it is believed that 90 percent of Wagner’s December casualties would be convicts enlisted in the organization.

The group recruits members in Russian prisons to fight in the war in Ukraine with the promise of sentence commutation. According to Kirby, most of the victims are ex-convicts who were sent into combat without receiving training.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions against this Russian mercenary group for its involvement in the war in Ukraine and has designated it as a “transnational criminal organization,” which opens up the possibility of further economic sanctions against both the organization and its allies around the world.

In January, the U.S. estimated that the group had about 50,000 mercenaries in Ukraine, of which 10,000 would be contractors and 40,000 would be ex-prisoners, and assured that Wagner continues to recruit guerrillas in Russian prisons, despite the group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, saying that this practice is no longer being adopted.

How did the Wagner Group come about?

Wagner Group is in the spotlight for its role in the war in Ukraine.

The group was founded in 2014 and one of its first known missions was in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea that same year, when mercenaries in unmarked uniforms helped Russian-backed separatist forces seize the region.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow initially used the mercenaries to reinforce front-line forces, but has since come to rely increasingly on them in critical battles, such as in the cities of Bakhmut and Soledar.

The paralimitar company, its owner, and most of its commanders have been targeted by sanctions from the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union (EU).

Who is part of the Wagner Group?

The private military company Wagner existed long before the start of the war in Ukraine and was composed of a few thousand mercenaries.

Most of them were believed to be highly trained former elite soldiers. But when Russia’s losses during the war in Ukraine began to mount, the company’s owner, Kremlin-connected oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, began expanding the group, recruiting Russian prisoners and civilians as well as foreigners.

In a video circulating on the Internet from September 2022, Prigozhin is seen in a Russian prison yard addressing a crowd of convicts and promising that if they served in Ukraine for six months, their sentences would be commuted.

Despite its growing presence in the war, the effectiveness of the Wagner Group is unclear, with analysts suggesting that the group suffers a large number of casualties without making significant inroads.

*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI Team ***

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