A captured Russian soldier said he is more afraid of Vladimir Putin than he is of dying in battle.
"We're afraid of Putin," a Ukrainian solder recalled the man saying.
The Ukrainian solder said the man joined Russia's Wagner Group to expunge his criminal record.
A captured fighter from Russia's Wagner Group told his Ukrainian captors he is more afraid of Russian President Vladimir Putin than he is of dying on the battlefield, a Ukrainian soldier revealed to CNN.
In an audio recording reviewed by CNN of the Ukrainian soldier questioning the Russian prisoner, Andriy told the man: "Obviously, you know that you will be killed [in battle.] But you're afraid to fight for your freedom in your country."
"Yes, this is true," the Ukrainian soldier named Andriy recalled the man replying. "We're afraid of Putin."
The Wagner fighter was an engineer, CNN reported, citing the audio recording. According to CNN, he had started selling drugs in Russia to make more money on the side, and he joined Wagner in hopes of expunging his criminal record so his daughter, who wants to be a lawyer, would run into fewer roadblocks in her future.
In the recording reviewed by CNN, Andriy asked the man when he realized he was "just meat," to which he replied: "At the first combat mission. They brought us to the frontline on December 28. They sent us forward last night."
Russian President Vladimir Putin is "desperate for a victory of any kind" ahead of the one-year anniversary of his invasion into Ukraine, and he's sending his troops into some of Ukraine's most heavily defended areas to try to get it, a former Australian general said earlier this month.
To achieve this, Russia has been sending prisoners recruited by the Wagner Group and freshly mobilized troops to the front lines to clear the way for its better-trained forces, who step in later, a US official said, Insider previously reported.
Wagner — a private military contractor with close ties to the Kremlin — was designated as a "significant transnational criminal organization" by the US government last week and its global network was targeted by a slew of sanctions. The White House said in January that the group had about 10,000 mercenaries and 40,000 former prisoners deployed across Ukraine, where it has joined in Moscow's war efforts.
Earlier this month, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley estimated that Russia has lost "well over 100,000" troops in almost a full year of battle, including soldiers from its regular military and also Wagner fighters.
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