Wagner mercenary boss reveals recruitment campaign due to Bakhmut | Russo-Ukrainian War

Yevgeny Prigozhin says he has opened recruiting centers in 42 Russian cities to replenish ranks due to losses in Bakhmut.

Mercenary Force boss Yevgeny Prigozhin says his private Wagner Army has opened recruiting centers in 42 Russian cities as it seeks to replenish army ranks after heavy losses in the fighting for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

In an upbeat audio message on Friday, Prigozhin said new fighters were showing up, but gave no indication of how many fighters were involved. He also said the Russian army’s ammunition supplies had improved but remained a concern.

“Despite the colossal resistance of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, we will continue,” he said. “Despite the obstacles thrown at us with every step, we will overcome this together.”

Wagner’s mercenaries were at the forefront of some of the fiercest fighting in the Russian bid to take control of Bakhmut, where the Ukrainian army is still holding out after more than seven months of war – a bloody campaign that Prigozhin calls “the meat grinder”.

In a separate social media post on Friday, Prigozhin said Ukraine was preparing a counteroffensive near Bakhmut, adding, “Of course, we are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russian band Wagner, speaks in Paraskoviivka, Ukraine, in this still image released March 3, 2023 [File: Concord Press Service via Reuters]

Ukraine decided to continue fighting in the ruins of Bakhmut because the battle engaged some of Russia’s best units and exhausted them ahead of Moscow’s planned spring counteroffensive, the Ukrainian president’s aide said on Friday. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak.

“Russia has changed tactics,” Podolyak said in an interview published by Italian newspaper La Stampa.

“It converged on Bakhmut with much of its trained military personnel, the remnants of its professional army, as well as private businesses,” he said.

“So we have two objectives: to reduce their capable numbers as much as possible and fix them in a few key tiring battles, to disrupt their offensive and to concentrate our resources elsewhere for the spring counter-offensive. So today Bakhmut is completely efficient, even exceeding its main tasks.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Friday that as Russia continued its offensive, “our soldiers are doing everything possible to prevent the enemy from implementing their plans.”

Prigozhin admitted to having suffered heavy losses at Bakhmut and at one point posted a gruesome photo of rows of Wagner’s corpses. He also fought a public feud with Russian military leaders over his army’s ammunition shortages.

In January, the United States assessed that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts whom Prigozhin had recruited from Russian prisons with the promise of a free pardon if they survived six months on the front lines. In February, however, he said he was no longer allowed to hire convicts straight out of prison.

Ukrainian officials claimed that nearly 30,000 Wagner fighters deserted or were killed or wounded in Ukraine, a figure that could not be independently verified.

In another audio message on Friday, Prigozhin said he thanked the Russian government for a “heroic” increase in ammunition production. He said his men had been “blown away” by the fact that they had started receiving shipments of ammunition labeled as produced in 2023. He said ammunition was now being produced “in enormous quantities, which cover all needs required”.

Prigozhin then appeared to contradict himself, saying, “I am worried about the shortages of ammunition and shells not only for the private military company Wagner but for all units of the Russian army.”

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