The White House on Thursday revealed extraordinary details of how Russian mercenary group Wagner is propping up Vladimir Putin‘s desperate war effort, buying North Korean arms and recruiting sick convicts to fight in Ukraine.
It reflects how Moscow has become increasingly reliant on the company, which is run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, nicknamed ‘Putin’s chef.’
‘In effect, Prigozhin controls a private army that fights alongside the forces of the Russian Federation,’ John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, told reporters.
‘Prigozhin is spending more than $100 million per month to fund Wagner’s operations inside Ukraine.’
Kirby said the Russian operation had reached brutal levels of desperation, with Prigozhin throwing his own troops into the ‘meat grinder.’
The White House revealed extraordinary details on Thursday of how Russian mercenary group Wagner is propping up Vladimir Putin’s desperate war effort, by buying missiles and rockets from North Korea. The group has been active in fighting in the battle of Donbas (pictured)
White House security spokesman John Kirby (left) told reporters that the head of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin (right), was throwing his troops in ‘the meat grinder’
And he said Wagner was hunting the world for arms suppliers.
‘We can confirm that North Korea has completed an initial arms delivery to Wagner, which paid for that equipment. Last month, North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner,’ Kirby said.
Last month Pyongyang said it had no plans to deal arms to Russia last month when Washington said it had supplied a ‘significant’ number of artillery shells.
The new revelations triggered international condemnation.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said North Korea would be punished for its role in the war.
‘The fact that President Putin is turning to North Korea for help is a sign of Russia’s desperation and isolation,’ he said.
Wagner mercenaries have been deployed all around their world, building a vicious reputation as they furthered Russian interests.
It was founded in 2014 and its contractors soon went after the annexation of Crimea that year, arming separatist groups in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
That was the starting point for this year’s invasion.
Now, the White House estimates that Wagner has 50,000 personnel deployed in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts recruited from Russian prisons, Kirby said.
‘They even have been recruiting prisoners with serious medical conditions,’ he said.
It has been particularly active in Bakhmut, scene of some of the most vicious fighting.
The city, in the eastern Donbas region, is a blackened shell of its former self.
‘Wagner is on the ground playing a significant role there where its ill-equipped and ill-trained forces are, quite frankly, suffering heavy casualties,’ said Kirby.
‘It seems as though Prigozhin is willing to just throw Russian bodies into the meat grinder in Bakhmut.’
He said the U.S. assessment was that about 1000 Wagner fighters had been killed in recent weeks — of which some 90 percent were former prisoners.
President Volodomyr Zelensky visited the city on Tuesday.
And a day later, during a visit to Washington, D.C., he described what he found.
‘Last year, 70,000 people lived here in Bakhmut in this city,’ he told a joint session of Congress. ‘Now only a few civilians stay.
‘Every inch of that land is soaked in blood, roaring guns sound every hour… the fight for Bakhmut will change the tragic story of our war for independence and of freedom.’
Mercenaries from the Wagner Group are fighting in Ukraine. The White House said it has 50,000 personnel there, of which 40,000 were recruited from prisons
Prigozhin (left) is the chief financier of the Wagner group and is a close ally of Russian President Putin. He is known as ‘Putin’s chef’ because the president could take visiting dignitaries to his restaurants and catering businesses
Volodomyr Zelensky described the carnage in Bakhmut to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. ‘Every inch of that land is soaked in blood, roaring guns sound every hour,’ he said
Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar towards Russian positions near Bakhmut. The city is frequently described as the scene of the most active or ‘kinetic’ part of the war
Bakhmut remains strategically significant for Russia but has gained symbolic importance too
The Biden administration on Wednesday unveiled new curbs on technology exports to the Wagner Group in a bid to further choke off its supplies.
More sanctions are coming in the weeks ahead against the company and its support group in countries around the world, Kirby said.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Washington would share its findings with the U.N. Security Council.
‘For years, the Kremlin has used the Wagner Group to support its dangerous and destabilizing foreign policy while attempting to maintain deniability in the Middle East, Africa, and Ukraine,’ she said.
‘Wagner’s purchase of weapons from [North Korea] to wreak destruction in Ukraine also contributes to instability on the Korean peninsula by giving the [North Korea] funds it can use to further develop its prohibited weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.’