“Rus’ is sitting”: out of 50,000 prisoners recruited by Wagner PMCs, only 10,000 remained at the front. The rest either died or deserted

23 January 2023

Of the 50,000 Russian prisoners recruited by the Wagner PMC to participate in the war in Ukraine, only ten thousand people remained, says Olga Romanova , head of the Rus Seated charity foundation.

“According to our data, 42-43 thousand [prisoners] were recruited by the end of December. Now they are, most likely, already over 50 thousand. Of these, ten thousand are fighting at the front, because all the rest are either killed, or three hundredth , or missing, or deserted, or surrendered,” Romanova told the My Russian Rights project.

According to her, the prisoners “with terrible force” began to desert from PMCs back in the fall. Many of them, the head of the project notes, fled back to Russia, taking weapons with them. As an example, she cited a case that occurred in early December 2022 in the Rostov region. Then the former prisoner, who had deserted from the PMC, opened fire on the police, injuring one of them.

Romanova also suggested that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner PMC, who “promised Putin to win the war,” does not keep statistics on missing or defecting prisoners, simply writing them all on the list of the dead. This, in particular, may be evidenced by reports that PMCs return empty coffins to relatives of prisoners.

Putin’s prisoners mobilized

The recruitment of prisoners in Russian prisons to participate in the war in Ukraine became known in the summer of 2022. The founder of PMC Evgeny Prigozhin personally came to some colonies for the purpose of recruiting. This, in particular, was  announced on December 21 by  politician Alexei Navalny, who is serving a sentence in a strict regime colony in Vladimir.

In December, the coordinator of strategic communications of the US National Security Council, John Kirby , said that the number of Wagner PMCs in Ukraine could reach 50,000 people. He also noted that 90% of the group may be former prisoners. In January, this information was partially confirmed by the British Ministry of Defense. 

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