The chief of Russia’s Wagner private military group Yevgeny Prigozhin announced on Saturday that he plans to recruit about 30,000 new fighters by mid-May, according to a voice message published on Telegram.
Prigozhin also claimed Wagner recruits about 500 to 800 people on average per day, sometimes up to 1,200 people per day.
“It is possible that this number of recruits may decrease after some time; however, by the middle of May, we plan that the number of fighters of the unit will increase by approximately 30,000,” Prigozhin said in an audio message.
Wagner is a mercenary company run by Prigozhin, who has been highly visible on the frontlines in recent months – and always quick to claim credit for Russian advances.
The group is renowned for its blunt and brutal tactics, and for showing little regard for the lives of its own soldiers. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling described its tactics in eastern Ukraine as “like feeding meat to a meat grinder.”
Last week, Prigozhin said that Wagner had opened recruitment efforts in 42 cities in Russia.
Wagner has focused its attention on recruiting mercenaries from sports clubs, boxing gyms, and other gyms, as well as men who have previously completed six-month contracts and could be rehired. Wagner has also recruited a small number of foreign fighters.
CNN previously reported that Wagner said it stopped recruiting from prisons in January. The prison recruitment campaign was well publicized and widespread, netting as many as 40,000 fighters for Wagner last year.
But many of the private military group’s recruits have been killed or wounded in heavy fighting around the city of Bakhmut, the scene of a months-long battle.
That the group is seeking tens of thousands of new fighters suggests that it has sustained major losses in the conflict.
Earlier this month, Prigozhin acknowledged that the situation in Bakhmut was “difficult, very difficult, with the enemy fighting each other for each meter.”
Although Wagner made incremental gains around Bakhmut and now holds the eastern part of the city, this came at huge costs. Prigozhin called for the support of regular Russian forces and a more reliable flow of munitions, but neither were forthcoming. He accused Russia’s Ministry of Defense of trying to strangle his force.
A Ukrainian military intelligence report obtained by CNN detailed the remorseless tactics used by Wagner. The report, dated December 2022, concluded that “the deaths of thousands of Wagner soldiers do not matter to Russian society.”
In January, a former Wagner mercenary said the brutality he witnessed in Ukraine ultimately pushed him to defect, in an exclusive CNN interview.