Russia faces an 'exodus' of troops as prisoners recruited to fight in Ukraine start to be pardoned and return home, says UK intel

Russia faces an 'exodus' of troops as prisoners recruited to fight in Ukraine start to be pardoned and return home, says UK intel
  • Russia's Wagner mercenary army fighting in Ukraine is about to see an "exodus" of personnel.

  • It's due to release thousands of troops recruited from prisons in exchange for pardons, UK intel said.

  • It will likely face personnel issues as a result, since it's no longer allowed to recruit prisoners.

Russia is about to face potentially major personnel problems in Ukraine, as thousands of convicts who were recruited to fight in the war are set to be pardoned and sent home, according to UK intelligence.

The UK Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update on Tuesday that in the coming weeks "thousands of Russian convicts who have fought for Wagner Group are likely to be pardoned and released."

It described it as an expected "exodus" from the mercenary army's ranks.

The Wagner Group is a private, pro-Kremlin group that has sent tens of thousands of mercenaries and former prisoners to Ukraine. Early in the war it was given permission to recruit from Russian prisons, offering full pardons in exchange for six months of service.

The MOD said that the number of those prisoners who are due to be pardoned shortly is significant, as the group's recruitment effort peaked in fall 2022.

Evidence from Russia suggests that the Wagner Group is "following through on its promise to free survivors," the MOD said.

It also noted that around half of the prisoners recruited have been killed or injured in the fighting, according to Western intelligence.

Wagner is expected to struggle with troop numbers going forward, the MOD said, as the group has been banned from recruiting more prisoners.

"This exodus will worsen its personnel problems," it said.

The MOD said earlier this month that the paramilitary force had been trying to recruit in Moscow high schools, where it collected details of students who were interested in fighting.

But the MOD said that those efforts would likely not be enough to fill the gaps created by the drop in prisoner numbers.

The MOD also said that with the upcoming pardons there will be a "sudden influx of often violent offenders with recent and often traumatic combat experience" into Russia.

This, it said, "will likely present a significant challenge for Russia's war-time society."

The Wagner Group's leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been publicly feuding with Russia's military leadership. He has accused the military of denying ammunition to his troops, calling it an "an attempt to destroy" Wagner.

The Washington DC-based Institute for the Study of War said earlier this month that Russia's military leadership may be using the brutal fight for the city of Bakhmut as a way to weaken the group and Prigozhin.

The battle for Bakhmut has become one of the war's bloodiest battles. Western officials estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 Russian troops have been killed or injured there, with Russia making slow progress in its efforts to capture the city.


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