Russia is making gains in its relentless assault on eastern Ukraine's Donbas region—but at a heavy cost. With the Russian military low on manpower due to casualties, and with Vladimir Putin reluctant to declare the "special military operation" a war (which would allow the mobilization of fighting-age men), the Telegraph reports prisoners are being recruited to join the fight. Relatives of inmates at two St. Petersburg-area prison colonies have told Russian news outlets that recruiters from the Wagner Group military contractor offered prisoners around $3,000 a month to fight—and freedom if they survive for six months.
Relatives said inmates were told "volunteers" would be sent to Ukraine, but paperwork would show they had been sent to a different prison. They were told not everybody would make it back alive, but the families of those who died would receive around $80,000, relatives said. After he declared victory in Luhansk province Monday, Putin acknowledged that troops who fought there would need to "take some rest and beef up their combat capability," the AP reports. Western analysts believe Russia has lost around 15,000 troops in Ukraine, with many more injured.
Russia has also taken steps including offering well-paid short-term contracts and scrapping the age limit for military recruits, allowing people over 40 to enlist. With manpower low, the Russian military has been relying on using artillery to break down Ukrainian defenses. "What we are seeing are very limited shallow attacks that maximize on artillery support," Ben Barry, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, tells the Wall Street Journal. "That’s a reflection they understand the weaknesses of their own forces." With more than 100 soldiers killed each day, Ukraine is also low on troops, but its forces are trying to extend the fight until more weapons from the West arrive. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)