A Russian military contractor is recruiting convicts with serious medical concerns including HIV as part of an approach that prioritises “numbers over experience or quality”, British defence chiefs have warned.
In its latest intelligence briefing, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that the Wagner Group could be hiring some of the convicts to help construct a 200km fortified line of defence in eastern Ukraine.
The MoD wrote: “On 27 October 2022, Russian mogul Yevgeny Prigozhin posted online, apparently admitting allegations that his private military company, the Wagner Group, had altered its standards & was recruiting Russian convicts suffering from serious diseases including HIV & Hepatitis C.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine - 30 October 2022
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“The role of Wagner Group has evolved significantly since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In previous conflicts, it maintained relatively high recruitment standards, with many of its operators having previously served as professional Russian soldiers.”
It said, the admission of prisoners with medical concerns “highlights an approach which now prioritises numbers over experience or quality”.
Before adding: “Prigozhin’s has recently discussed plans to create a 200km long defensive ‘Wagner Line’ in eastern Ukraine. This endeavour would require a large labour force.
“There is a realistic possibility that some of the convict recruits will initially be put to work constructing the defences.”
The Wagner Group is a private military company that acts as a Russian mercenary organisation with links to the government – something which has been denied by the Kremlin.
It is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close links to Vladimir Putin who is also alleged to run Russia’s "troll farm", the Internet Research Agency.
He is one of the many oligarchs recently sanctioned by the West in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Saturday, the Russian defence ministry announced the suspension of the vital UN-brokered grain export deal which has seen more than nine million tons exported from Ukraine and brought down global food prices.
The ministry cited an alleged Ukrainian drone attack against Russia’s Black Sea Fleet ships moored off the coast of occupied Crimea as the reason for the move. Ukraine has denied the attack which Moscow said took place early on Saturday.
Following the decision by the Russian government, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, said: “The UN Black Sea Grain Initiative is instrumental to global food security.
“Russia should allow grain exports to reach the world’s hungry.”
According to the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, “ships of the Black Sea Fleet repelled a drone attack in the waters of the Sevastopol Bay” - this has not been verified by any other source.
Ukraine’s foreign minister has said Russia was "using a false pretext" to justify the move to suspend the grain deal.