Washington, Feb 18 (IANS) White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the Russian mercenary Wagner Group has suffered more than 30,000 casualties since Moscow launched its ongoing war against Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
Kirby made the remarks during a White House press briefing on Friday.
Of the overall figure, “approximately 9,000 were killed in action and about half of those were killed since mid-December”, Kirby said.
The Wagner Group, which is owned by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, currently has approximately 50,000 personnel deployed in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts.
In January, Kirby had announced that the US would designate the Wagner Group as a ‘Transnational Criminal Organization’ for “committing atrocities and human rights abuses in Ukraine and elsewhere”.
During Friday’s briefing, Kirby further said that Wagner has recruited heavily in Russian prisons, adding that most casualties were untrained convicts.
Despite the casualties, Wagner has made gains around the city of Bakhmut.
Some of the fiercest fighting of the war has taken place around the eastern city, with Wagner mercenaries heavily involved in Russian efforts to capture it.
Ukrainian troops say Wagner fighters had been sent into attacks in large numbers over open ground, and a Ukrainian army spokesperson said Moscow had failed to evacuate wounded and dead soldiers – leading to “places where their bodies are just piled up”, repors the BBC.
Capturing Bakhmut could allow Russia to make advances to bigger cities further west, like Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.
However, Kirby suggested further advances could prove difficult given the gains made in Bakhmut had taken months to achieve and come at a “devastating cost that is not sustainable”.
He also questioned military significance of the city.
“It is possible that they may end up being successful in Bakhmut, but it will prove of no real worth to them because it is of no real strategic value,” Kirby told reporters.