Russia's Wagner mercenary group is being forced to use more professional soldiers in Ukraine to replace its depleted supply of enlisted prisoners, who are perishing by their thousands in the battle for Bakhmut.
Although private military groups are banned from participation in “armed conflict abroad for financial gain”, Wagner has been operating and recruiting openly in Russia since December 2022 and has been used by the Russian government to project Russian policy - with plausible deniability - particularly in Syria and Africa.
Since the beginning of the Ukraine war however, many of the contractors in Africa returned to Russia and, to boost numbers, the group began to recruit Russian prisoners for frontline duty in exchange for a presidential pardon and a salary of 100,000 rubles. The composition of its membership has changed from being almost exclusively military veterans and professional soldiers, but being largely untrained and with poor discipline, the fatalities have been disproportionately borne by these convict recruits.
In February, Wagner ended its prison recruitment drive, partly due to word reaching prisoners about the high casualty rate.