Russia might recruit prisoners to fight for the Kremlin-tied mercenary Wagner Group amid troop shortages in Ukraine: British intelligence

Russia might recruit prisoners to fight for the Kremlin-tied mercenary Wagner Group amid troop shortages in Ukraine: British intelligence
A Russian soldier stands guard at the Luhansk power plant in the town of Shchastya.Alexander Nemenov/Getty Images
  • Russia might consider releasing prisoners into an infamous mercenary group to aid its offensive in Ukraine.
  • The UK Ministry of Defense said that "if true" this move indicates Russia is struggling to replace troop losses.

Russia might resort to "recruiting" incarcerated people to fight for an infamous Kremlin-tied mercenary group as a way to make up for troop shortages in Ukraine, according to British intelligence.

"Russian Armed Forces' personnel shortages may be forcing the Russian MOD [Ministry of Defense] to turn to non-traditional recruitment. This includes recruiting personnel from Russian prisons for the Wagner Private Military Company," the UK Ministry of Defense said in a statement, adding, "If true, this move likely indicates difficulties in replacing the significant numbers of Russian casualties."

Western officials have said that the Wagner Group is already present in Ukraine. The Wagner Group is a shadowy private Russian military force that's been linked to the Kremlin and has operated in conflict zones across the world. The mercenary group has been accused of war crimes.

The UK intelligence update also said that Russian troops are continuing to make "small incremental territorial gains in Donetsk oblast." Donestk, along with Luhansk, is one of two provinces that make up the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.

"Russian forces are likely maintaining military pressure on Ukrainian forces whilst regrouping and reconstituting for further offensives in the near future," the UK Ministry of Defense said.


After failing to take Kyiv in the early days of the war, which began in late February, Russia turned its attention to the Donbas. Russia has gradually made progress in the Donbas in recent weeks and recently declared victory in Luhansk.

The roots of the Ukraine war can be traced back to 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine. That same year, Russia began supporting rebels in a war against Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. Even before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the onset of the so-called "special operation" in Ukraine in February, Kremlin-backed rebels controlled roughly one-third of the Donbas.

Though Russia has made gains in the Donbas, experts have expressed skepticism that the Russian military has the numbers and weaponry to launch another offensive to conquer the whole of Ukraine. The Ukrainian government estimates that as many as 35,000 Russian soldiers have been killed so far. An estimate from the UK government released in April placed the death toll closer to 15,000. It's difficult to verify these numbers with the fighting ongoing.