(Moscow) The boss of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner announced on Friday the opening of 58 recruiting centers in 42 cities across Russia, as he seeks to replenish his troops which are suffering heavy losses in eastern Ukraine.
The Wagner group is on the front line in the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmout, and its boss, Yevgeny Prigojine, has himself admitted that many fighters from his organization have been killed there.
Against a backdrop of tensions with the Defense Minister, Mr. Prigojine has repeatedly complained that he can no longer recruit in Russian prisons, where Wagner enlisted prisoners on a massive scale in exchange for reduced sentences.
Changing tactics, he recently turned to sports halls to open recruitment points there to attract potential recruits.
“In 42 cities of the Russian Federation recruitment centers for Wagner have opened. New fighters are coming there, [ils] will accompany us to defend their country and their families,” Prigojine said in a statement released by his press service on Friday.
His message was accompanied by a list of these recruitment centers, the majority of which appear to have opened in gyms and martial arts clubs.
Mr. Prigojine, however, did not specify how many contract fighters he intended to recruit through these centers and in how long.
This announcement comes as Wagner suffered very heavy losses in the fighting that has lasted for several months around Bakhmout, a city in Ukrainian Donbass that has become the epicenter of hostilities with the Kyiv army.
To stem a series of humiliating setbacks on the battlefield last summer, Russia announced in September the mobilization of 300,000 reservists. At the same time, the Wagner group had been authorized to recruit several thousand combatants from Russian prisons, in exchange for an amnesty after six months spent on the front lines.
But in recent weeks, tensions between the general staff and the boss of Wagner have come to light, while Russia, on the offensive in the Donbass, has made only weak progress there.
Yevgeny Prigojine has thus multiplied on several occasions the virulent criticism of the Russian military hierarchy, castigating in turn its inefficiency, its slowness and its bad decisions in Ukraine.
He accused the authorities of not providing the necessary ammunition to his men, and the Minister of Defense and the army chief of wanting to destroy his Wagner group.
“Despite the colossal resistance of the Ukrainian armed forces, we will move forward. Despite the sticks that are put in our wheels […]we will overcome this together,” he vowed on Friday.
Despite disagreements between Wagner and the army, Russian forces have advanced in recent days around Bakhmout, threatening to encircle the city that the Ukrainians continue to defend fiercely.
Three Ukrainian soldiers sentenced by pro-Russian separatists
Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have sentenced three Ukrainian soldiers to heavy prison terms, accusing them of committing “violence against civilians”, the Russian Investigative Committee announced on Friday.
Captured during the Russian offensive in Ukraine, Viktor Pokhozei, Maxim Boutkevitch and Vladislav Chel were found guilty of “violence against the civilian population” and “use of prohibited methods during an armed conflict”, indicated in a press release this body in charge of the main investigations in Russia.
Mr. Boutkevitch and Mr. Chel, also found guilty of attempted murder on several people, were sentenced to 13 and 18 and a half years respectively. Mr. Pokhozei was sentenced to 8 and a half years in prison.
These sentences were handed down by the “supreme courts” of the pro-Russian separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, controlled by Moscow, which last year demanded its annexation, which was not recognized by the international community.
Ukrainian human rights activist and founder of the independent radio station Hromadske Radio, Maxime Boutkevitch joined the Ukrainian army in March 2022, shortly after the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine.
Russian investigators accused him of injuring two civilians after firing an anti-tank grenade launcher at a residential building in Sievierodonetsk, a city captured by the Russian army last June in the Luhansk region.
For his part, Mr Pokhozei, one of the commanders of the Azov regiment, notably made up of Ukrainian nationalists and who distinguished himself in the defense of the city of Mariupol, conquered by the Russians after a devastating siege lasting several months, was accused of hitting a civilian with his gun.
Also a fighter from the Azov regiment, Vladislav Chel was accused of having opened fire on a civilian “with the aim of intimidating civilians” in a residential building in Mariupol.
Reacting to these convictions, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced “a bogus trial” which “aimed to legalize a new political massacre of Ukrainian citizens”.
“The sentences imposed are illegal, and null and void,” he added in a statement, calling on the international community to “condemn” the trial and “demand” from Moscow the release of the three convicted Ukrainian soldiers.