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Wagner mercenaries boss reveals recruitment drive due to Bakhmut

Yevgeny Prigozhin says he has opened recruiting centers in 42 Russian cities to replenish ranks over losses in Bakhmut.

The chief of the mercenary force, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said his Wagner Private Army has opened recruitment centers in 42 Russian cities as he seeks to replenish the army’s ranks after heavy losses in the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

In a cheery audio message on Friday, Prigozhin said new fighters were emerging, but gave no indication of the numbers involved. He also said that the Russian army’s ammunition supply had improved, but remained a concern.

“Despite the colossal resistance of the Ukrainian armed forces, we will continue,” he said. “Despite the sticks in the wheels that are thrown at us at every step, we will overcome this together.”

Wagner mercenaries have been at the forefront of some of the fiercest fighting in Russia’s bid to take control of Bakhmut, where the Ukrainian army is still holding out after more than seven months of warfare – a bloody campaign that Prigozhin ” the meat grinder”.

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.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia’s Wagner Group, speaks in Paraskoviivka, Ukraine in this still image released March 3, 2023 (File: Concord Press Service via Reuters)

Ukraine has decided to continue fighting in the devastated Bakhmut as the battle has attacked and exhausted some of Russia’s best units ahead of Moscow’s planned spring counter-offensive, said Mykhailo Podolyak, the aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy , Friday.

“Russia has changed tactics,” Podolyak said in an interview published by Italian newspaper La Stampa.

“It has converged in Bakhmut with a large part of its trained military, the remnants of its professional army and the private companies,” he said.

“We therefore have two goals: to bring back their skilled personnel as much as possible and fix them in a few important, exhausting battles, disrupt their offensive and concentrate our resources elsewhere for the spring counter-offensive. So today Bakhmut is fully effective and even exceeds its core functions.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar said on Friday that while Russia continues its offensive, “our soldiers are doing everything possible to prevent the enemy from carrying out their plans”.

Prigozhin has admitted to heavy casualties in Bakhmut and at one point posted a gruesome photo of rows of Wagner corpses. He has also engaged in a public spat with Russian military leaders over his army’s ammunition shortages.

In January, the United States assessed that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts whom Prigozhin recruited from Russian prisons with the promise of a free pardon if they survived six months at the front. In February, however, he said he could no longer hire convicts directly from prison.

Ukrainian officials have claimed that nearly 30,000 Wagner fighters have deserted or been killed or wounded in Ukraine, a figure 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 munitions production. He said his men were “overwhelmed” by the fact that they had started receiving ammunition deliveries labeled produced in 2023. He said ammunition was now being produced “in huge quantities, covering all necessary needs”.

Prigozhin then seemed to contradict himself by saying: “I am concerned about ammunition and shell shortages, not only for the Wagner private military company, but for all units of the Russian army.”