An advertisement posted by Wagner on the Russian social media website, VKontakte, said that its military group was seeking people to operate drones. It said that the ideal candidate would be aged 21 to 35, in good physical shape with experience in flight simulation computer games and who was used to sitting “straight for hours playing.”

It also indicated that previous combat experience was unnecessary. The post adds that Wagner guarantees training with trained instructors, health and life insurance, modern equipment, and a promise to pay each recruit.

Wagner is not the first to try to attract gamers to military service. In 2020, the Russian Ministry of Defense posted a targeted advertisement on Facebook for volunteer gamers to become contract servicemen. The post offered to the opportunity to “challenge friends offline” and play “according to real rules, without cheats and saves.”

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A journalist from the independent Russian media site, Vertka, reports that he spoke to the PMC recruiters on the contact number included in the advertisement. He was asked the sort of questions you would expect relating to previous military service, age, criminal record, health and so on but was also asked what kind of devices the applicant had experience with or wanted to fly.

“We have two types of UAVs: copters and more serious things,” the recruiter said. He also asked in which location he would prefer to operate: Ukraine or Africa. He was told the monthly salary started at around 240,000 rubles ($2,800), depending on where he was deployed and in what role.

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In response to the VKontakte advertisement a number of comments had been posted such as:

“I’ve got 20 years of experience on Call of Duty. Will you take me?” To which a Wagner recruiter wrote: “You realize that this isn’t a game? You’d be at war.”

Another said he had over 7,000 hours of experience in computer flight simulations but was 42 and too old to sign up as a combat drone operator. Wagner replied that he could still apply to fly quadcopters as a member of a close-combat unit.

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Another comment said, “I read that [Ukrainian soldiers] can locate drone operators really quickly.” While another accused Wagner of “sending people to be slaughtered.”

In addition to its video game players, Wagner has also placed advertisements seeking fluent French speakers to work as interpreters in Africa, as well as welders, medics and drivers for employment in both Africa and Ukraine. 

The Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) said that this new recruitment by Wagner was launched after heavy losses on the battlefield. This was revealed in an intercept of a phone conversation between two Russian soldiers.

Wagner’s latest recruitment drive comes as the feud between Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenary group’s leader, and Russia’s Defense Minister deepens as Prigozhin insists he will defy the order for Wagner troops to sign a contract with the defense ministry as it would reduce the group’s ability to operate independently in Ukraine.

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