Recruiters from the Wagner PMC continue mass recruitment of prisoners in Russian colonies. Verstka journalists together with the Russian Behind Bars foundation report that the recruiters have visited at least 17 colonies in the country’s 10 regions and selected more than a thousand people who agreed to go to war in Ukraine. Olga Romanova, head of Russia Behind Bars, told The Insider, the prisoners are being sent to the front line as vanguard troops - to clear paths through minefields and draw enemy fire.
According to Verstka, a special training facility was established at IK-2 in Rostov-on-Don, where those who agreed to go to the front are trained for 20 hours a day, with four hours set aside for sleep. The first group, trained in the colony, left for the front on July 20.
The recruiters had already been to the Tula region (IK-1, IK-4, IK-5), Yaroslavl region (IK-2, IK-3, IK-12), Leningrad region (IK-3), Ryazan region (IK-3, IK-5), Novgorod region (IK-7), Arkhangelsk and Pskov regions (IK-6), as well as in the Komi Republic (IK-19, IK-25), Karelia (IK-7) and St. Petersburg (IK-6, IK-7). The information was confirmed to the journalists by inmates in those colonies.
There are also reports of recruiters visiting the Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir, Smolensk, Vologda and Murmansk regions, the Republic of Tyva, Adygea and Mordovia, as well as the Perm krai. However, the journalists have yet to confirm the information.
According to the information the journalists were able to collect from prisoners and their relatives, the largest number of prisoners who agreed to go to war was in the Yaroslavl region (about 680 people). Wagnerites managed to recruit another 400 persons from the colonies in the Ryazan region. Among those who have agreed to go to war are 270 people from correctional facility (IK) No. 5 in the Tula region and about 250 people from a colony in the Arkhangelsk region, 130 people from Komi, at least 72 people from the Pskov region and at least 40 people from correctional facility No. 7 in St. Petersburg.
In the majority of cases (14 out of 17) the recruiters preferred visiting maximum-security colonies. Journalists were also told in two colonies that those who agreed at first and changed their mind later were sent to the punishment cells and have since been under pressure.
The PMC has had help in the recruitment from Federal Penitentiary Service officers, sometimes high-ranking ones. For example, Ivan Prokopenko, head of the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Tula region, was present while the recruiters were interviewing inmates at IK-4 in the Tula region. According to Vazhnye Istorii, FSB officers also participate in such interviews from time to time.
Inmates say Wagner PMC are allowed to freely enter the colonies with weapons at the ready. Prisoners are herded into the courtyard and lined up, whereafter the “Wagnerites” call on them to “defend their homeland,” promising payments of about 200,000 rubles a month, a sick pay of 300,000 rubles if wounded, and 5 million rubles in case of death. If they are able to hold out for six months, they are promised they will be released. After that, about 20% of the inmates in each penal colony agree to go to war, Russia Behind Bars reports. Then the agitation continues via other prisoners, so-called “activists”, who work together with the colony chiefs. Inmates sign contracts with the PMC only after they have passed their training and received their uniforms. However, the details of the contracts are still unknown.
Those who have agreed to go to war undergo polygraph tests and are questioned to find out their attitude towards the Russian authorities and whether they can escape to Ukraine.
Mediazona also reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin, co-founder of the Wagner PMC, personally visited some of the colonies to recruit inmates, according to reports from two unrelated inmates from different colonies.
Prigozhin told the inmates he represented the Wagner PMC and offered them to join it to participate in the war against Ukraine. During his visit to IK-2 Prigozhin was accompanied by seven men in civilian clothes. Three of them, armed with pistols, appeared on the parade ground in front of fifteen hundred inmates lined up in the courtyard.