Mar 11 – The head of the mercenary force, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said his private army Wagner has opened recruitment centers in 42 Russian cities as it seeks to replenish the army’s ranks after heavy losses in the fighting for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut .
In an upbeat audio message on Friday, Prigozhin said new fighters would be introduced, but did not indicate the number of people involved. He also said that the Russian army’s ammunition supplies had improved but remained a concern.
“Despite the colossal resistance of the Ukrainian armed forces, we will go ahead,” he said. “Despite the sticks in the wheels thrown at us at every turn, we will get through this together.”
Wagner’s mercenaries have been at the forefront of some of the fiercest fighting in Russia’s bid to seize control of Bakhmut, where the Ukrainian army is still holding out after more than seven months of war, a bloody campaign Prigozhin calls “the meat mincer”.
In a separate social media post on Friday, Prigozhin said Ukraine was preparing a counter-offensive near Bakhmut, adding: “Of course, we are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening.”
Ukraine has decided to continue fighting in the ruins of Bakhmut because the battle has involved some of Russia’s best units and worn them down ahead of Moscow’s planned spring counteroffensive, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s aide Mykhailo Podolyak said on Friday. .
“Russia has changed its tactics,” Podolyak said in an interview published by the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
“It has converged on Bakhmut with a large part of its trained military personnel, the remnants of its professional army, as well as private companies,” he said.
“Therefore, we have two objectives: reduce their trained personnel as much as possible and fix them in some key and grueling battles, disrupt their offensive, and focus our resources elsewhere for the spring counteroffensive. So today Bakhmut is fully effective, even surpassing his key tasks.”
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Friday that as Russia pushed forward its offensive, “our soldiers are doing everything possible to prevent the enemy from implementing his plans.”
Prigozhin has acknowledged suffering heavy losses at Bakhmut and at one point posted a gruesome photo of rows of Wagner’s corpses. He has also been in a public dispute with Russian military chiefs over his army’s ammunition shortage.
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 on 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 fresh out of prison.
Ukrainian authorities have claimed that nearly 30,000 Wagner fighters have defected or been killed or wounded in Ukraine, a number that could not be independently verified.
In another audio message on Friday, Prigozhin said he had thanked the Russian government for a “heroic” increase in ammunition production. He said his men were “impressed” by the fact that they had started receiving deliveries of ammunition labeled as produced in 2023. He said the ammunition was now being produced “in large quantities, covering all necessary needs.” .
Prigozhin then seemed to contradict himself, saying: “I am concerned about the shortage of ammunition and shells not only for the Wagner private military company but for all units of the Russian army.”