The US government estimates the private military company Wagner Group has suffered more than 30,000 casualties, including roughly 9,000 fighters killed, since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
About half of those 9,000 have been killed since mid-December, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said. And about 90% of those killed in December were recruited from Russian prisons.
The group has relied heavily on convicts to fill out its ranks. "That doesn't show any signs of abating," Kirby said Friday, though Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed last week that he will no longer recruit from prisons.
"They're treating their recruits, largely convicts, as basically cannon fodder, throwing them into a literal meat grinder here, inhuman ways without a second thought," Kirby said. "Men that he just plucked out of prisons and threw on the battlefield with no training, no equipping, no organizational command, just throw them into the fight."
Recently, Wagner suffered heavy casualties in the intense fight for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
Kirby said Russia made "incremental gains" in and around the city as the fighting intensified over the last several days. He said the US cannot predict whether Russia will break through.
Even if they do, Kirby said the city holds "no real strategic value," because the US believes Ukraine would maintain its strong defensive lines across the broader Donbas region.