Despite mutiny, Wagner is still recruiting, according to BBC

Der Wagner-Bau in St. Petersburg am 27. Juni 2023

After staging a mutiny that caused Vladimir Putin to express concerns about the possibility of civil war, the Wagner Group is still looking for fighters across Russia.

We called more than a dozen recruitment offices using a Russian phone number, claiming to be calling on behalf of a brother if we were questioned.

It was business as usual, according to everyone who responded.

No one thought the group was breaking up from Kaliningrad in the west to Krasnodar in the south.

An employee of the Viking sports club in Murmansk, Russia's Arctic capital, confirmed that she was still recruiting fighters for Ukraine.

"Yes, we are hiring for that position. Anyone interested in going only needs to give me a call, and we can arrange a time. " .

Most of Wagner's extensive network of contacts are based at fight clubs, such as boxing and martial arts gyms.

The new members were signing contracts with the mercenary group itself, not the Russian defense ministry, according to several people who answered the phone.

A man at the Volgograd Sparta sports club was adamant that it had nothing to do with the defense ministry. We're still hiring; nothing has changed. ".

The fierce feud that culminated in last weekend's armed uprising was caused by the demand that the mercenaries transfer to the defense ministry, subduing the Wagner Group and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in the process.

Despite the Kremlin's ongoing efforts to redefine President Putin's response as forceful and decisive, it was the biggest challenge to his authority in his more than 20 years in power.

Even so, the criminal case against the mutinous crew members was dropped in a nation where numerous opposition activists are currently serving lengthy prison terms for nothing more than speaking out against Russia's war on Ukraine.

Sarah Rainsford calling Wagner offices
Several Wagner recruitment offices were contacted by Sarah Rainsford (image credit: Matthew Goddard).

Even Wagner's leader was apparently allowed to move to Belarus unmolested, despite the fact that Prigozhin's private jet was observed on Tuesday night returning to Russia.

Furthermore, his army hasn't yet been disbanded despite marching on Moscow and shooting down helicopters and a plane.

"We're at it. They would have let us know if something had changed. In southern Russia's Krasnodar, a female recruiter was adamant: "But there's nothing.

The monthly wage for a Wagner fighter remains a generous 240 000 roubles, and the contracts are for six months.

The head of the Russian parliament's defense committee claimed on Thursday that Prigozhin had been informed beforehand that the deadline for Wagner to be absorbed by the MOD was non-negotiable.

They all started signing contracts after the Defense Ministry ordered all groups to do so. Everyone, with the exception of Mr. Prigozhin, said Andrei Kartapolov, calling his mutiny a treasonous act.

He referred to the Special Military Operation, which is Russia's code name for its conflict with Ukraine, as "he was informed that Wagner would not participate in the.". "It also wouldn't receive any funding or materials. ".

Following this past weekend's uprising, Vladimir Putin abruptly changed his position after years of denying any official connection to Wagner. He asserted that the group was entirely supported by the Russian state in an apparent attempt to reduce Yevgeny Prigozhin to size.

Wagner's chances of survival are therefore not certain.

Wagner used Russian prisons as a major source of fighters for Ukraine until Mr. Putin signed a law on Saturday limiting prison recruitment to the defense ministry.

But the organization's wider recruitment drive goes on.

The man we spoke to in Volgograd said that if someone signed up today, "I could deploy him tomorrow," and he also said that Belarus was now a potential location.

Wagner fighters are welcome there, according to comments made earlier this week by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has enjoyed talking about his role in mediating a resolution to Saturday's uprising.

He said they could teach the Belarusian army a lot.

In case there were additional large-scale protests against Mr. Lukashenko's authoritarian rule, a Wagner member from Belarus who goes by the call-sign "Brest" suggested that the group would provide good protection for him before the parliamentary elections of next year.

"Brest" also reminded viewers that the Belarusian border was "less than 300km from Kyiv" in a Telegram video that was shot in an unidentified location. It was an oblique threat.

Wagner fighters, however, are still not rumored to be relocating to Belarus.

"For the time being, nothing has changed. Nothing has changed," a woman in Saratov, central Russia, insisted, reiterating her continued recruitment of men to fight in Ukraine.   .

"Everyone, as usual, travels to Molkino. I'm going to the training facility. They obtain all the information there," she continued, ostensibly alluding to a southern Russian shooting range that had previously been connected to Wagner.

I wondered if anything would change after July 1st. I have no idea. Naturally, though, people continue to reach out to us. ".

Anastassia Zlatopolskai has more reporting.

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