Sir Julian Lewis: My right hon. Friend describes the Russian armed forces as “poorly led” and “badly equipped”. What assessment does he make of the Wagner Group, which seems to be operating independently and, allegedly, with more successful effect? Am I right in thinking that an organisation that pulls criminals out of jail and sends them into battle is surely operating well outside the law of armed conflict?
[The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace): My right hon. Friend makes an important point about Wagner. For a long time, Wagner has operated outside the rules of any law. That has been its selling point in Libya and Mali in Africa: “Pay for us with contracts, diamonds or whatever” – there are no rules. Wagner has been observed on numerous occasions engaged in war crimes and events, but given its proximity to the Kremlin, it does not fool anyone that it is somehow some unilateral, purely commercial operation. Currently, we think that two thirds of the Wagner force around the Bakhmut area are convicts taken from prisons. They are suffering approximately two thirds casualty rates, so it is not a good deal for convicts in the Wagner Group.]