Russia's Wagner Group has suffered more than 30,000 casualties in Ukraine, including about 9,000 fatalities, and the paramilitary organisation continues to rely heavily on convicts to fill its ranks, the White House said on Friday.
Wagner is widely known to be a proxy for the Russian military and is thought to be financed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a friend of President Vladimir Putin.
Moscow has relied on Wagner to conduct much of the fighting in Ukraine, particularly during the ongoing brutal battle for Bakhmut.
“I do want to say this about the Wagner Group, in particularly with respect to Bakhut: They're treating their recruits, largely convicts, basically as cannon fodder, throwing them into a literal meat grinder here … without a second thought,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
He said most of those killed had been convicts who had received little training or provisions.
These were men that Wagner “plucked out of prisons and threw on the battlefield with no training”.
“No equipping, no organisational command, just thrown into the fight,” Mr Kirby said.
He was speaking before President Joe Biden's visit to Poland next week, when he will reiterate US support for Ukraine that will last “as long as it takes”.
Asked whether Mr Biden would be prepared to give fighter jets to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has asked western allies for such aircraft, Mr Kirby suggested it might be something that is considered in the future.
“We remain in constant communication with the Ukrainians about what their needs are,” he said.
“Those needs have evolved as the war has evolved, and we'll see where this goes.”
The US last month formally designated Russia's Wagner Group as a transnational “significant” criminal organisation and imposed sanctions on numerous entities associated with it.