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The scale of involvement of Russian prisoners recruited by the state-backed mercenary Wagner Group in the war against Ukraine has "probably significantly reduced" compared to its peak between summer and fall 2022, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported on Feb. 3.
"Significant tensions between Wagner and the Russian Ministry of Defense are playing out in public; competition between factions in the Russian elite is likely to be partially responsible for the reduced supply of convicts," reads the ministry's latest intelligence update.
The U.K. Defense Ministry refers to the data of the Russian Federal Penal Service (FSIN), which shows that the number of prisoners in Russia fell by 6000 inmates from November 2022 to Jan. 31, 2023, while from September to November last year, the number of inmates decreased by 23,000.
"Wagner recruitment was likely a major contributing factor to this drop," the ministry wrote.
Also, some reports from the Ukrainian military on the ground in the last ten days suggest that Russian forces have been using the "human waves" tactic with Wagner convict troops in key sectors less often, according to the intelligence update.
The Wagner Group, Russia's most high-profile mercenary group, takes part in the battles in the Bakhmut area, eastern Donetsk Oblast, alongside the Russian military.
The U.K. Defense Ministry said on Dec. 19 that the Kremlin-controlled paramilitary organization was using a large number of poorly trained convicts it had recruited to fight against Ukraine.
It has been accused of human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Mozambique, including torture and extrajudicial killings.
Ukraine's General Staff reported on Jan. 25 that Wagner Group was also recruiting imprisoned Ukrainian citizens who were forcibly taken to Russian prisons.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to the President's Office, said on Jan. 15 that 77% of the Russian convicts recruited by the Wagner Group have been killed, injured, or captured by Ukrainian forces.