WASHINGTON (Reuters): The Russian mercenary company Wagner Group has suffered more than 30,000 casualties since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, with about 9,000 of those fighters killed in action, the White House said on Friday.
The US estimates that 90 percent of Wagner group soldiers killed in Ukraine since December were convicts, White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a regular briefing.
Half of the overall deaths occurred since mid-December, as fighting in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut intensified, an NSC spokesperson said, citing newly downgraded intelligence.
Kirby claimed last December that the Wagner group has 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts.
Putin started deploying the private mercenary army run by his crony Yevgeny Prigozhin in mid-2022 when Russia’s regular troops were pushed back by Ukrainian forces in areas they have initially captured.
A New York Times report on Feb. 2, 2023, citing American and other Western officials, said the overall number of Russian troops killed and wounded in Ukraine was approaching 200,000.
White House spokesman Kirby said the Wagner group had made incremental gains in and around Bakhmut over the last few days, but those had taken many months to achieve and came at a “devastating cost that is not sustainable.”
“It is possible that they may end up being successful in Bakhmut, but it will prove of no real worth to them because it is of no real strategic value,” he said, adding that Ukrainian forces would maintain strong defensive lines across the Donbas region.
Kirby told reporters that Wagner continued to rely heavily on convicts, who were sent to war with no training or equipment, despite recent comments from Wagner’s founder Prigozhin that he had stopped recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine.