Ukraine war: Wagner chief announces plans to recruit 30,000 fighters by mid-May

(CNN) Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s Wagner private military group, announced Saturday that he plans to recruit about 30,000 new fighters by mid-May, according to an audio message posted on Telegram.

Prigozhin also claimed that Wagner recruited an average of about 500 to 800 people a day, sometimes as many as 1,200 people a day.

“It is possible that this number of recruits may decrease after some time, but by mid-May we estimate that the number of fighters in the unit will increase to about 30,000,” Prigozhin said in an audio message.

Wagner is a mercenary company led by Prigozhin that has been highly visible at the forefront in recent months – and is always quick to claim credit for Russia’s progress.

The group is known for its blunt and brutal tactics and showing little respect for the lives of its own soldiers. Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling described its tactics in eastern Ukraine as “like feeding meat into a meat grinder.”

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin gives a video message outside Bakhmut, Ukraine, in March.

Last week, Prigozhin said that Wagner had started recruitment projects in 42 cities in Russia.

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

CNN previously reported that Wagner said he stopped recruiting from prisons in January. The prison recruitment campaign was highly publicized and widespread, with up to 40,000 fighters participating in Wagner last year.

But many of the private military group’s recruits have been killed or wounded in heavy fighting around the town of Bakhmut, the scene of months of fighting.

That the group is seeking tens of thousands of new fighters suggests it has suffered heavy losses in the conflict.

Earlier this month, Prigozhin admitted that the situation in Bakhmut was “difficult, very difficult, with the enemy fighting each other from every meter.”

Although Wagner gradually gained ground around Bakhmut and now controls the eastern part of the city, it came at a huge cost. Prigozhin demanded support from Russian regular troops and a more reliable supply of ammunition, but neither was forthcoming. He accused the Russian Ministry of Defense of trying to strangle his forces.

A Ukrainian military intelligence report obtained by CNN detailed Wagner’s relentless tactics. A report dated December 2022 stated that “the death of thousands of Wagner soldiers has no meaning for Russian society”.

In January, the former Wagner mercenary said in an exclusive interview with CNN that the brutality he saw in Ukraine finally made him defect.

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