Acutely short of men, Wagner Group devises new recruitment techniques

By Olha Chepil

A Wagner Group recruitment poster from April urges men to join the mercenary force. [Wagner Group]

A Wagner Group recruitment poster from April urges men to join the mercenary force. [Wagner Group]

KYIV -- Facing huge losses in Ukraine and a widening feud with the Kremlin, the Wagner Group is finding fewer avenues to replenish its ranks, observers say.

Last summer, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin toured Russian prisons in a bid to convince inmates to fight with the mercenary group in Ukraine, in exchange for a promised amnesty upon their return should they survive.

Convicts likely account for most of Wagner's losses in the war, since the mercenary force used them as cannon fodder in Ukraine.

In early February Prigozhin claimed, "Wagner has completely stopped the recruitment of prisoners."

Wagner Group mercenaries are shown in a destroyed building in Bakhmut, Ukraine, in a picture posted on June 2. [Wagner Group]

Wagner Group mercenaries are shown in a destroyed building in Bakhmut, Ukraine, in a picture posted on June 2. [Wagner Group]

An information screen set in an underground passage promotes the Wagner Group mercenary force in Moscow on May 11. [Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP]

An information screen set in an underground passage promotes the Wagner Group mercenary force in Moscow on May 11. [Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP]

During the Bakhmut battle, "I selected 50,000 prisoners, of whom about 20% were killed," he said in a video interview published late May 23, according to AFP.

The death rate was about the same for other Wagner Group mercenaries fighting in Bakhmut, he said, without giving a precise figure.

An increasingly 'dangerous threat'

With such massive losses in an unpopular war that has dragged on for more than a year, Wagner has been forced to expand its recruitment.

It is now using Twitter and Facebook to recruit medics, information technology specialists, drone operators and even psychologists, POLITICO reported May 30.

Job ads for the mercenary group have attained almost 120,000 views on Twitter and Facebook during the past 10 months, according to Logically, a UK-based research group focused on disinformation.

Sixty posts in multiple languages -- including French, Vietnamese and Spanish -- show the breadth of Wagner's recruitment drive as well as its potential global ambitions.

After first deploying in Ukraine in 2014, and then to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, Wagner Group mercenaries have been involved in conflicts around the world, including in Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Madagascar, Libya, Venezuela, Mozambique and Mali.

There are unconfirmed reports of the group operating in Belarus, Burkina Faso, Chad, Moldova, Azerbaijan (in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh), Serbia and other countries.

The posts examined by Logically discuss a variety of job opportunities with Wagner and boast monthly salaries of 240,000 RUB ($2,900) plus benefits including paid time off and health care.

Researchers were not able to directly attribute the posts to Wagner, but they are written in the same way as verified posts by the mercenaries and their supporters.

"We only know that this is using the exact same language as previously verified Wagner accounts on places like Telegram or VK," said Kyle Walter, Logically's head of research.

They also linked to Telegram accounts and listed contact phone numbers.

A Western government official found separately that at least two phone numbers in the social media postings linked directly to the Wagner Group or to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), reported POLITICO.

"As we continue to view Wagner as a more and more dangerous threat in the world, the fact that these posts are circulating online is very concerning," Walter said.

The US government in January designated the Wagner Group a "transnational criminal organisation", allowing a wider application of sanctions on the group's sprawling global network.

Meta designated Wagner a "dangerous organisation", meaning it may not have a presence on its platforms, including Facebook and Instagram.

A hard time finding recruits

Traditional recruitment methods through dedicated recruitment centres no longer work, say analysts.

US-based social networks are just part of Wagner's recruitment machine, said reservist Maj. Gen. Viktor Yahun of Kyiv, director of the Agency for Security Sector Reform and former deputy director of the Security Service of Ukraine.

"It is like an ordinary company that recruits -- it needs men. The bulk of its searching happens on the Odnoklassniki and VKontakte social networks. It even uses PornHub, not just Facebook. This is all standard practice for Wagnerites," he said.

"It is essential to understand who is going to them," he added. "A certain category, a certain group of men go to them."

Recruitment at Russian prisons is no longer effective.

Wagner has "no way to guarantee that these prisoners will be amnestied in accordance with government programmes", Yahun said.

Those who were recruited by Prigozhin last year "went not so much because of money, but to avoid sitting behind bars for 10–15 years", he said.

Evidence shows that Russians are increasingly reluctant to join the Kremlin's war in Ukraine -- either as part of the regular army or as part of the Wagner Group.

Wagner's ads on Twitter and Facebook are not surprising, said Alina Bondarchuk of Kyiv, director of the Information Collection and Monitoring Department of the Ukrainian Centre for Countering Disinformation.

"We see that the ads were released in foreign languages such as Spanish and English," she said. "That fact gives reason to believe that the Russian public's level of interest in participating in the so-called 'special military operation' is extremely low."

Russia lost about 100,000 men in the fighting for Bakhmut alone, Bondarchuk said. After such high casualties, it is not surprising that Russians do not want to become cannon fodder and die serving the interests of Vladimir Putin's dictatorship.

"We've repeatedly seen Russia's attempts to gather 'soldiers of fortune' all around the world to replenish the ranks," she said.

Wagner now has "a huge problem", Yahun said. "There are simply no men."

"Wagner is trying to actively work with men in its focus group, but nothing is working. Those who wanted to fight have already signed up, and those who didn't want to but could bear arms have already been drafted into the regular army," he said.

"They have a hard time finding men who are willing."

Need for stronger online monitoring

More should be done to prevent Wagner from recruiting online and governments should recognise the mercenary group as an international terrorist organisation, say human rights activists.

"If, for example, a newspaper publishes an advertisement about plans to commit a crime, murder, violence or robberies, then who will assuredly be prosecuted by law enforcement? The owner, the editor-in-chief and employees," said Eduard Bagirov, a Kyiv-based human rights activist and director of the International League for the Protection of the Rights of Citizens of Ukraine.

"And if a billboard has an advertisement that says to kill or stab a loved one? Then the owner of the billboard and the director of the advertising company are prosecuted," he said. "Websites and social networks are no different from billboards or print media."

Such ads by Wagner on social networks need stronger monitoring, and this is explicitly a job for the headquarters of these online giants, he said.

"There is this concept called the advertising efficiency coefficient," he said. "If 10–20 years ago, newspapers and TV had a high advertising efficiency coefficient, today the internet and social networks are the most efficient way to convey information to consumers," said Bagirov.

"That's why the Wagner Group uses these tools to convey its criminal proposition as much as possible to men who agree to kill for money," he said. "This process must be stopped!"

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7 Comment(s)

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Russia has a lot to offer, but cannot speak the language. If I gotta die, let me die fighting, kicking and screaming, like when I did coming into this world...let me go out the same.


These musicians' [Wagner] goose is cooked


Beware ))) Wagnerites will soon make it to Poland


Why not to London? )))


Russia doesn't have enough people on the frontline, but they have a surplus in Kazakhstan, for example. There are many Putin fans here, and law enforcement knows their whereabouts. Putin, give an order, and we will start rounding them up and send them out to prove Russian patriotism not from the couch but in action.


A catcher of lice and roaches? An armchair catcher?


Where is that great second army in the world if they already don't have enough cannon fodder? )))