Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, defended efforts to train his new recruits swept out of the Russian penal system and destined for deployment to Ukraine’s front lines and said they “will make real cannibals”.
The term is not meant to be a literal interpretation, explained Rebekah Koffler, a Russian expert and former Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence officer for Russian Doctrine and Strategy.
The phrase is meant to allow Prigozhin to claim that he is turning his convicts into fighting machines as they prepare for the war front in Ukraine.
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In a video shared by the Daily Mail on Tuesday, Prigozhin spoke as Wagner’s forces trained behind him and said, “This is an additional training base for our fighters.”
“The main training is in Molkino and here experienced fighters receive additional training in their specialties,” he said in reference to the location of Wagner’s main base in Russia. “Here, they make real cannibals.”
Wagner began offering Russian convicts a chance to fight in Ukraine and in exchange for securing their release from prison, regardless of the charge.
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As long as a convict can survive on the front lines for six months, they can go home without having served their full prison sentence.
Although Wagner’s forces receive ammunition and equipment from the Russian Ministry of Defense, they do not work with or operate within the Russian military forces.
Prigozhin, an ally of Putin, has concentrated his forces in Ukraine’s hardest-fought regions like Donetsk and claimed Russia’s recent victories were due to his forces, not the Russian military.
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Although the Russian military has sought to distance itself from the group of brutal mercenaries, it claimed earlier this month that Russian military units and Wagner’s forces were working as if in a ‘mixed’ effort to secure the fiercely contested city by Soledar.
The United States estimates that there are around 50,000 soldiers hired in Ukraine, around 10,000 are believed to be professional contractors while 40,000 are convicts recruited to fill dwindling numbers on the ground.