The Kremlin-controlled paramilitary organization Wagner Group is using a large number of poorly trained convicts it had recruited to fight against Ukraine in a Russian attempt to sack Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported on Dec. 19.
The soldiers receive a smartphone or tablet with commercial satellite images, showing them the designated axis of advance and the attack’s target. Meanwhile, the Wagner Group commanders at platoon level and above stay undercover and give orders via radios, according to the latest ministry’s intelligence update.
The individual servicemen and units are ordered to follow a predetermined route, “often with fire-support, but less often alongside armored vehicles,” the U.K. Defense Ministry wrote.
The officials added that those who decline to attack “are likely being threatened with summary execution.”
“These brutal tactics aim to conserve Wagner’s rare assets of experienced commanders and armored vehicles, at the expense of the more readily available convict recruits, which the organization assesses as expendable,” reads the report.
The Wagner Group is a private military formation run by Evgenii Prigozhin, a close confidant of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Russia deployed the mercenaries to eastern Ukraine amid its military’s heavy losses, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported on Mar. 28.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening address on Dec. 9 that Russian troops had “effectively destroyed Bakhmut.”
Bakhmut, the salt-mining city with a pre-war population of 70,000 people, became the center of a critical battle in the east of Ukraine in August. It is located on the main road to Kramatorsk and Sloviansk – key cities in Donetsk Oblast that Moscow aims to capture despite its stalled progress.