Russian Mercenary Chief Announces Plans to Recruit 30,000 New Fighters by Mid-May

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Prigozhin said recruitment was going better than he had expected, and that those who were volunteering were in better physical shape than the convicts he had taken on before.

Russia’s Wagner mercenary group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin on Saturday announced plans to recruit about 30,000 new fighters into the private military group by the middle of May.

Prigozhin noted in an audio message on Telegram that Wagner recruitment centers, which he said last week had opened in 42 Russian cities, were hiring on average per day 500 to 800 people, sometimes up to 1,200 people per day.

“It is possible that this number of recruits may decrease after some time; however, by the middle of May, we plan that the number of fighters of the unit will increase by approximately 30,000,” Prigozhin said in the audio message.

Wagner is a mercenary company run by Prigozhin, who has been highly visible on the frontlines in recent months and always quick to claim credit for Russian advances.

The group is renowned for its blunt and brutal tactics and for showing little regard for the lives of its own soldiers. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling described its tactics in eastern Ukraine as “like feeding meat to a meat grinder”.

Wagner has concentrated more on recruiting mercenaries from sports clubs, boxing gyms, and other gyms, as well as men who have previously completed six-month contracts and could be rehired. The group has also recruited a small number of foreign fighters.

In January, the United States assessed that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts Prigozhin had recruited from Russian prisons with a promise of a free pardon if they survived six months.

Many of Prigozhin’s men have been killed or wounded in heavy fighting while leading Russian efforts to capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which has held out since last summer in the longest and bloodiest battle of the year-long war.

Ukrainian officials have claimed that some 30,000 fighters of Wagner have deserted or been killed or wounded, a figure that could not be independently verified.

That the group is seeking tens of thousands of new fighters, however, suggests that it has sustained major losses in the conflict.

Prigozhin acknowledged earlier this month that the situation in Bakhmut was “difficult, very difficult, with the enemy fighting each other for each metre”.