Illustrative photo – Smoke rises after Russian shelling of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, December 27, 2022.
Washington – Russia's mercenary Wagner group has come since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago by more than 30,000 men. Around 9,000 of its members died in action, the White House said on Friday according to the Reuters agency.
Photo gallery: Russian invasion of Ukraine
The United States estimates that 90 percent of Wagnerites killed in Ukraine since December were convicts, White House security spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a regular briefing.
Half of the total number of dead have been killed since mid-December, when fighting intensified the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, a National Security Council official said, citing newly declassified intelligence.
Kirby said the Wagners in and around Bakhmut had made gradual gains in recent days, but after many months and at a “devastating cost , which is not sustainable”. “It's possible that they will eventually be successful in Bakhmut, but it won't be of any real importance to them because it's of no real strategic importance,” Kirby said, adding that Ukrainian forces in Donbas are maintaining strong defensive lines.
< p>Kirby said Wagner's group continues to rely heavily on prisoners sent to war without training and equipment, although group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin recently claimed he had stopped recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine.