Recent restrictions on recruiting fighters from Russian prisons for his mercenary outfit have prompted Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin to focus on free citizens, including high school students, the British Ministry of Defense said in an update.
Prigozhin’s recruiters have lately given career talks and distributed questionnaires headlined “Application of a young warrior” in Moscow high schools, the ministry said. It’s a highly dangerous career path, considering about half the convicts Wagner has deployed in Ukraine have become casualties, according to the ministry.
Wagner forces have been at the forefront of the effort to take Bakhmut, where Russia sustained more than 2,600 casualties in the previous week, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday.
Prigozhin is close enough to Russian President Vladimir Putin to be known as “Putin’s chef,” after previously catering Kremlin events. But his relentless criticism of the Russian military has earned him enemies in the Ministry of Defense who are in no hurry to help him.
His new strategy probably won’t make up for the loss of formerly incarcerated fighters, the ministry said, adding: “If the ban (on recruiting prisoners) endures, Prigozhin will likely be forced to reduce the scale or intensity of Wagner operations in Ukraine.”
►India will abide by the $60 per barrel sanction cap on Russian oil, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter. India has become a major buyer of Russian oil since the war began. Crude oil currently sells for about $75 a barrel.
►The International Criminal Court will open two war crimes cases and seek several arrests tied to the Russian invasion, The New York Times reported, citing current and former officials with knowledge of the decision. They would be the first international charges filed since the war began.
►British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged Monday to increase U.K. military funding by $6 billion over the next two years in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the threat of a more aggressive China.
►Russia’s legislature is considering a plan to raise the military draft ages to 21-30 from 18-27 over the next three years. Enlistment would remain legal for those 18 who still want to enlist.
►Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny learned Monday from his lawyer that a film detailing his poisoning and political activism won the Oscar for best documentary feature. There was no word on Navalny’s reaction.
Russian officials say they are willing to extend the agreement that allows Ukraine grain shipments safe passage through a Russian blockade in the Black Sea but only for 60 days, half its previous length.
The officials, who are negotiating with U.N. representatives, say sanctions imposed by the West after the invasion of Ukraine keep Russia from getting full access to markets for its grain and fertilizer.
“Our further stance will be determined upon tangible progress on normalization of our agricultural exports, not in words, but in deeds,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the U.N. and Turkey, was intended to prevent a global food crisis. Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s leading grain exporters. Both the initial deal in July and its extension in November — which expires Saturday — were agreed to for 120 days.
Ukraine has pointed out terms of the deal specify extensions must last at least 120 days. The UN said in a statement it “will do everything possible to preserve the integrity of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and ensure its continuity.”
Ukrainians wait for Russians to ‘shoot each other’ as internal rift widens
Ukrainian servicemen said on social media video they are holding positions in war-battered Bakhmut waiting for Russians to “shoot each other” as the war of words between the Russian Defense Ministry and a Russian mercenary leader intensifies, a think tank reports.
The assessment from the Institute for the Study of War said Russian military leadership may be allowing the mercenary Wagner Group to take high casualties in Bakhmut to erode its leader’s leverage while preserving Russian army troops.
Prigozhin has publicly complained that the Defense Ministry has been increasingly restricting his ability to recruit convicts and secure ammunition. Plus, the assessment says Prigozhin likely anticipated that Ukrainian forces would withdraw from Bakhmut. Instead, Zelenskyy doubled down, rejecting suggestions that his military strategically allow the city to fall.
“Putin and the Russian MoD may use Prigozhin as a scapegoat for the costly drive on Bakhmut once the offensive culminates,” the assessment says.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping plans to meet virtually with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the first time since the start of the war, likely after Xi visits Moscow next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people the publication said were familiar with the matter.
The visit and remote chat reflect Beijing’s effort to play a more active role in mediating an end to the war, the Journal reported.
Putin and Xi have appeared to grow closer in the year since the war began, although China has dismissed as untrue reports in the U.S. that Xi’s government is considering supplying Russia with badly needed arms.
Thousands of Ukrainians who fled to America when the war started in February 2022 will get an extension on their one-year authorization to remain in the U.S., the Biden administration said Monday.
The Department of Homeland Security said the extension is for certain Ukrainians and their immediate family members who were let into the U.S. before the start of the Uniting for Ukraine program, which allows for two-year stays.
More than 20,000 Ukrainians came to the U.S. between the time the war started and the establishment of that program, and they might be granted another year’s stay, DHS said.
Kherson regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin announced a curfew from 5 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. from Monday to Friday this week, citing concerns that Russian sabotage teams may have moved into the area. He said the curfew could help prevent casualties among the civilian population during the counter-subversive measures.
“Help the defense forces,” Prokudin said on Telegram.
Kherson was overrun by Russian forces early in the war but was liberated in November. Russian forces who retreated across the Dnieper River have continuously shelled the region from there. Ukraine officials estimate that about half the population, which once approached 300,000, has fled.
Ukraine’s Security Service says it has broken up a transnational cash smuggling ring and seized more than $1 million at a checkpoint on the Romanian border. The money was stolen from the territories occupied by Russia and may have been targeted to finance Russian agents in Ukraine, the security service said.
Five participants were exposed in the scheme that tried to bring cash to the Chernivtsi region under the guise of tourists on a bus. Some of the cash was hidden in suitcases and some was wrapped around a suspect’s body, the security service said.