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Wagner PMC continues recruiting mercenaries in Russia despite Yevgeny Prigozhin's claims of alleged halt, IStories report

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Despite Yevgeny Prigozhin's claims about terminating the recruitment of fighters, the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) has continued to recruit mercenaries across Russia, while the main destination for trained Wagner fighters is now Africa, as revealed by the independent investigative outlet Important Stories (IStories). An IStories correspondent posed as a “volunteer,” gaining access to a private chat where mercenaries communicate and attempted to enroll in the PMC through one of the Wagner Group’s organizations in Novosibirsk.

Prigozhin claimed that the Wagner Group is not facing a “personnel deficit» — according to him, new recruitment will begin when “the Motherland needs to create a new (additional) ‘group’.” According to Prigozhin’s claims, the PMC’s mercenaries are currently present only in Africa and Belarus.

Nevertheless, journalists discovered messages in the chats indicating that the PMC plans to resume recruitment in August. According to one former mercenary, who had previous experience fighting in Africa and Ukraine, recruitment has already started through the Orthodox sports club Desantnik («Paratrooper») in Omsk and one of the PMC's stations in Novosibirsk.

When the correspondent attempted to join the new wave of recruitment, Desantnik said that PMC Wagner had banned all recruitment in Russia, making it impossible to join. However, the official representative of the PMC in Novosibirsk, the military veterans' organization Silovoye Edinstvo Sibiri («Force Unity of Siberia»), stated that new recruitment occurs on Fridays. The journalist was instructed to come to the office wearing sneakers and a sports uniform for a physical fitness assessment. The representatives also emphasized that candidates for PMC should have no criminal record, chronic illnesses, or financial debts listed in Russia's Federal Bailiff Service database. Additionally, a mercenary candidate has to possess a military specialty and an international passport, as the Wagner Group primarily recruits fighters for deployment to African countries.

Another mercenary the correspondent spoke to mentioned that recruitment centers decide the assignments of fighters after the selection process. This indicates that recruits may be sent to various destinations — including the war in Ukraine. However, the recruiters did not confirm this information to the publication.

In the course of communication with the recruiter, the correspondent was offered the opportunity to participate in the so-called “special military operation zone” without signing a contract with Russia's Ministry of Defense through the Redut PMC, which is connected to the state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom.

“The commander signed [the contract] with the Ministry of Defense, but nothing has changed on our side — you sign the Redut contract for six months, and we have nothing to do with the Ministry of Defense in the end,” said a recruiter of Redut’s «Wolves» unit.

On Sunday, July 30, the Central African Republic (CAR) held a referendum on constitutional amendments. The proposed changes include removing the restriction on holding the presidency for more than two consecutive terms, allowing the current President, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, to participate in future elections. Additionally, the presidential term will increase from five to seven years, and the Senate will be abolished. The opposition has strongly criticized these constitutional changes.

Touadéra first assumed office as CAR's president in 2016. Shortly after taking power, he sought Russia's assistance in combating rebels, leading to the deployment of the Wagner PMC to support the CAR forces against armed insurgents in 2017. In 2020, Touadera was re-elected for a second term. Wagner PMC mercenaries continue to operate in the country, earning millions of dollars.

On July 18, Prigozhin and Wagner PMC commander Dmitry Utkin (call sign “Wagner”) addressed the mercenaries at their camp located in Belarus. Prigozhin said that in the near future the Wagnerites will fight in Africa, but may return to Ukraine when they are sure that they “will not be made to shame themselves and their combat experience.”

Following the armed uprising orchestrated by Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Group in various Russian regions, including Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, Vladimir Putin openly acknowledged that the PMC is entirely financed by the Russian government.

During their so-called “march on Moscow,” the PMC's fighters reportedly shot down a Russian army airplane and six helicopters, resulting in an undisclosed number of deaths. Media reports estimated at least 13 Russian military personnel were killed. Following the incident, Yevgeny Prigozhin reached an agreement with Alexander Lukashenko and “left to Belarus.” Russian state media then reported on a meeting between Prigozhin and Putin at the Kremlin, with Rossiya-1 propagandist Ernest Mackevičius claiming that the conversation showed “the president's desire to see as objective a picture of events as possible, getting first-hand information.” According to the propagandist, this approach aided the Russian leadership in “coping with the rebellion.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin is a recidivist criminal, who has been tried for theft, robbery, fraud, and involving a minor in criminal activity. The Wagner PMC founder was first convicted in 1979, aged just 18, receiving a suspended two-and-a-half year sentence for theft. Two years later, Prigozhin was sentenced to 13 years in jail for robbery and theft, nine of which he served behind bars. According to one of the criminal cases, Prigozhin and his accomplices attacked a woman, strangled her and, when she lost consciousness, stole her earrings and boots.

In 2022, Vladimir Putin awarded Prigozhin the title of “Hero of Russia.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin was first placed on a US sanctions list in December 2016. In 2021, the FBI added Prigozhin to its most-wanted list. In January this year, the US Treasury Department declared the Wagner PMC a transnational criminal organization involved in “an ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity” — including mass executions, rape, child abductions and physical abuse. Wagner has gained control of a gold mine and logging rights in the Central African Republic, according to reports by Reuters. In June, the US imposed sanctions against a CAR-based company, which may have been involved in the financing of the Wagner Group through “illegal gold transactions.”

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