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Russia running out of 'single-use' soldiers

Ukrainian soldiers fire towards Russian positions on a frontline near Bakhmut - STRINGER/REUTERS
Ukrainian soldiers fire towards Russian positions on a frontline near Bakhmut - STRINGER/REUTERS

Russia is running out of “single-use soldiers” and can no longer rely on “human wave” attacks in eastern Ukraine that have helped in its recent offensives, British military intelligence has concluded.

Anecdotal evidence suggests Russia is cutting back on human wave-style assaults, a barbaric tactic that requires large numbers of untrained soldiers, as its recruitment of convicts in Russian prisons has plummeted.

Official statistics by Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service last year showed a major drop in prison population, attributed to a recruitment drive by the notorious mercenary group Wagner, but the latest figures released earlier this week suggested that recruitment in prisons faltered at the end of the year.

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The British Ministry of Defence on Friday suggested that Wagner’s recruitment programme has “probably significantly reduced from its peak between summer and autumn 2022”.

“Competition between factions in the Russian elite is likely to be partially responsible for the reduced supply of convicts,” it said.

The human wave tactic was first spotted around the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut where heavy fighting has been raging at least since October, and around Soledar where Wagner was able to score a rare Russian victory last month.

Ukrainian troops fire towards Russian positions - STRINGER/REUTERS
Ukrainian troops fire towards Russian positions - STRINGER/REUTERS

In a technique commonly deployed in the First World War, the Russian forces have been trying to flood the battlefield with a wave of densely packed soldiers sent directly towards the enemy line in a bid to overwhelm the opponent.

The tactic has led to Ukrainian commanders labelling the former prisoners “single-use soldiers”.

A member of Bakhmut’s territorial defence identified by his call-name “Georgian” told a Ukrainian military TV channel in a documentary released earlier this week that the Russian army often throws its men into battle even if they risk coming under friendly fire.

“When they can’t take our positions, they target it with artillery fire,” he said.

“While the artillery is firing, (the Russians) are coming into attack despite the fact that their own artillery could kill them: Russia is clearly treating them as cannon fodder”.

Ukrainian commanders - Pierre Crom/Getty Images Europe
Ukrainian commanders - Pierre Crom/Getty Images Europe

Maxim, another Ukrainian soldier who has seen the same tactic at play at his part of the front line, told the ICTV channel earlier this week one such attempt cost the Russians around 100 lives.

“A group of people simply walks across an open area and tries to do something: they just run and have no idea we are going to shoot at them,” he said.

The first “human wave” of soldiers are said to often be the least equipped and most poorly trained, followed by better fighting teams to hold ground.

Criminal charges filed against Prigozhin

Ukraine’s prosecutor general on Friday said he had filed criminal charges against Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious founder of Wagner. Mr Prigozhin is accused of “encroaching on the territorial integrity of Ukraine” and “waging an aggressive war”, Andriy Kostin said in a statement.

The Russian businessman, in a statement issued by his press office, sought to make fun of the charges and official summons for him to come to Kyiv to testify and invited Ukrainian officials to visit him on the front line near Bakhmut instead.

Mr Prigozhin has not publicly spoken about “human wave” attacks but has made it clear to his recruits they were playing Russian roulette on the front line in a hope that they will secure a prison pardon if they survive the meatgrinder of the war.

The Russian military has not admitted to deploying troops in such a reckless manner but one official at the Russian military headquarters directing the invasion told the Novaya Gazeta Europe on Friday the Kremlin’s push for a major offensive in eastern Ukraine is forcing them to turn thousands of soldiers “into mince meat to satisfy the high command”.