Captured Wagner soldier tells how convicts used as ‘cannon fodder’

Captured Russian soldier says they are used as ‘cannon fodder’

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to have ordered Wagner Group troops to withdraw from Ukraine. Some 50,000 mercenary troops are thought to make up the mercenary army, consisting of ex-soldiers from around the former USSR, as well as Russian convicts offered another chance at freedom should they fight. Multiple reports this week suggest that Putin is concerned that the Wagner Group poses a threat to his leadership.

The group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is close to the president, offering the Kremlin services from his catering companies.

Prigozhin has halted the recruitment process and will withdraw his soldiers within weeks, and these men will be replaced by up to 300,000 standard Russian military troops, according to the Mirror.

But this will not put an end to the horror stories told by captured Wagner Group soldiers, often former prisoners in the Russian Federation.

In late 2022, the Security Services of Ukraine (SSU) released a video of an alleged prisoner fighting for the Wagner Group, named Vladimir Valerievich.

Claiming to have been in jail under Article 105 — murder — he said Prigozhin had one day turned up at the prison he was staying at, offering to help the prisoners “wash off our sins with blood” if they fought in Ukraine.

He said he was told, “whoever stays alive gets freedom, money, and clean documents. That’s it.”

The interviewer then asked if it was true that Wagner was recruiting prisoners to use as “cannon fodder”.

Vladimir replied: “That is true. Our commander, the one who said, ‘I’ll be in charge’ when I was walking, the three of us were ahead, 30 to 40 metres, and those who walked behind me, convicts too. Then, this man walked, and he was already farther away.

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“I turned, [the others] were very far. Apparently, they wanted cannon fodder, as usual, to know where which positions are where, [and] who was standing where. That’s it. We’re like cannon fodder.”

He went on to say that the prisoners were “told a different story” when they were recruited and that they wouldn’t be sent to the front line “right away”.

Other sources have made similar claims. Website Russian Criminal reported that a former Wagner soldier as having said: “Sometimes there is an order not to wait for the shelling to end – the ‘Musicians’ [Wagner recruits] are so disciplined that they will go anyway because they stand a fighting chance of surviving.”

They said squadrons of prisoner conscripts are sent in waves, pushing the frontline closer to the Ukrainians while the shelling continues overhead from both sides.


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The withdrawal of Wagner troops is happening because Putin fears Prigozhin is becoming too powerful.

The publication said the Russian President fears the Wagner boss and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov hold too much sway over the embattled region, suspecting them as potential plotters against his regime.

Wagner is no stranger to Ukraine. The group came to prominence during the Donbas War in Ukraine, where it helped pro-Russian separatist forces to declare the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in 2014 and 2015.

Since then, its contractors are believed to have taken part in some of the world’s most brutal and bloody contemporary conflicts, including in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, and Mali.

In places where Wagner Group troops have been deployed, reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rapes and robberies of civilians, have been prevalent.

In January, a former Wagner commander claimed asylum in Norway after deserting the group and claimed to have witnessed war crimes in Ukraine.

Ukrainian prosecutors have accused three Wagner Group mercenaries of killing and torturing civilians near Kyiv in April 2022.

German intelligence suggests that Wagner members were responsible for the massacres witnessed in Bucha in March 2022.

Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Wagner’s forces are only thought to have numbered around 5,000 fighters.

According to the US National Security Council, some 80 percent of its troops in Ukraine have been drawn from Russian prisons.

The group has since “stopped” recruiting prisoners, Prigozhin said in a press statement last week.

Referring to the pardon granted to those prisoners who fought, he added that all “obligations” had been fulfilled towards the convicts involved.

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