Wagner Group mercenaries saw a spike in infectious diseases due to their poor hygiene, Ukraine said on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s latest statement about the dire condition of Russian troops comes more than 11 months after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the Ukraine “special military operation” in February 2022. Putin initially hoped his troops would carry him to a quick victory, but Ukrainian successes have translated to losses for Putin’s troops, compelling Moscow’s military leaders to turn to the Wagner Group, a paramilitary unit founded by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Wagner mercenaries in January delivered a key victory to Russia in Soledar.
Ukrainian intelligence has now suggested the group could be experiencing widespread illness. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said diseases were spreading throughout the troops, largely comprised of ex-prisoners, in their daily update on Tuesday.
Ukraine on Tuesday claimed that troops from the Wagner Group, founded by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin (L) are suffering from a rise in diseases and infections due to poor hygiene on the battlefield. Prigozhin is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin (R).
Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images; Contributor/Getty Images
“In Donetsk, among the soldiers of the Russian occupation forces and mercenaries of the so-called ‘Wagner,’ the number of diseases and particularly dangerous infections has increased, which may be due to the absence of normal sanitary and hygienic conditions in the locations of enemy units,” Ukrainian military officials wrote in the update.
Sean McFate, a senior fellow for the Atlantic Council, told Newsweek that while there’s no way to know “with confidence” the condition of their health, he would not be surprised if illnesses were spreading among troops.
“All battlefields lack normal sanitary and hygienic conditions. Additionally, winter conditions spread infectious diseases because people huddle together for warmth over long periods of time,” he said.
McFate added that he doubts Moscow would care too much about Wagner troops’ health because mercenaries are “disposable people.” However, he said illness could negatively impact the group’s effectiveness.
“If the Wagner Group is getting ill, it will compromise their military effectiveness, perhaps significantly so. Military history is full of examples of armies being laid low by microbes,” McFate said.
Despite Hopes of Battlefield Victories, Wagner Leadership Sees SetbacksUkraine’s claim is the latest in a series of potential setbacks for Wagner leadership despite recent claims of battlefield success, which have been disputed by the Biden administration.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported last week that Prigozhin has recently been in an “altercation” with former Russian commander Igor Girkin, highlighting “competition among Russian nationalist groups for political influence in Russia.”
Putin also reportedly sidelined the paramilitary group after it failed to make good on his promises of military gains by taking the key city of Bakhmut, according to the ISW.