Russian prisoners conscripted for war with Ukraine face front lines, not pardons
Between 2022 and 2023, the Wagner Group recruited inmates serving prison sentences for war efforts. In exchange for fighting, the inmates were offered their freedom - with Putin even signing their pardons. According to U.S. estimates, as of the end of 2022, the Wagner Group enlisted about 50,000 people, 40,000 of whom were recruited from Russian penal colonies.
Changing protocols in Sztorm-V
Starting from September last year, shortly after the death of the Wagnerites' leader, Evgeny Prigozhin, in an air crash, inmates began to be integrated into new assault groups called Sztorm-V. This was a break from the preceding Sztorm-Z units.
New policies were implemented. Convicts were no longer offered pardons after several months. Instead, they were expected to fight on equal terms with contract soldiers or those recruited through mobilization, i.e., until the war's conclusion. This is per the BBC's analysis, which examined reports circulating in social media groups for families of the prisoner-soldiers.
Why have prisoners' rules been modified?
Opposition media suggests that the revision in the protocols for convict service might be due to two factors. The first is the high rate of crimes committed by former mercenaries who had received personal pardons from Putin. The second is the fear of social unrest resulting from the perceived favoritism towards inmates over other soldier groups, particularly those reservists mobilized for war.
"Buddy, if you enlist now, be ready to fight. You could handle this in the past. Surviving a few months is possible, but making it through to the end of the war is unlikely. I've realized I can't endure this," wrote Sergei, a former inmate who has been fighting in the Sztorm-V unit since October 2023, in an online chat. The BBC cited his statement.
A surge of crime in Russia
Recently, there have been widespread reports of crimes, including murders, perpetrated by soldiers returning from the war in Ukraine throughout Russia. Particularly heinous acts have been committed by former Wagner group mercenaries who were drafted from prisons.
Independent media reported in December that close to 200 criminal cases were initiated against ex-inmates pardoned for enlistment throughout 2023 in Russia.
Source: BBC / PAP