The Russian Defense Ministry has begun recruiting prisoners into its ranks, following the likes of “Putin’s Chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), who has been doing so for several months, reported investigative outlet iStories on 11 October. The military are offering the same terms as Prigozhin’s PMC – a pardon, a six-month contract and a salary, while the prisoners trust the army more than the mercenaries, the publication writes.
Relatives of inmates in penal colony No. 3 (“Skopin” in the Ryazan Region) and No.4 (“Alexandriyskaya” in the Stavropol Region) told iStories that the military have been recruiting at those prisons since late September. Both prisons are so-called “red penal colonies” – a term used to denote a prison fully under the control of its administration – and predominantly house former members of the security services.
According to the sister of one of the prisoners in colony No. 4, her brother burst out with the idea to go to Ukraine “to defend his motherland” after a conversation with the visiting recruiters from the Defense Ministry – but his family managed to dissuade him. The day after that conversation, the mercenaries of the Wagner PMC arrived, and the inmate didn’t take to their motivational speech. “They were bluntly told that they could cut the Ukrainians into pieces. My brother said that that didn’t work for him, and that didn’t sound like defending the motherland. The papers they were offered to sign were useless, practically scrap,” said the prisoner’s relative.
The prisoners are being offered to “defend their motherland” as part of the “Storm” battalion. The first “Storm” recruits were transferred out of the penal colony № 4 on the night of October 11, the publication writes.
The human rights project Gulagu.net also reported that the Russian military has begun to recruit prisoners for the same battalion. According to the project, a popular recruitment method used by the Defense Ministry is «scaring the [prisoners] with the Wagnerites.” According to Gulagu.net, the military tells prisoners that if they don’t sign their contracts, they’ll fall into the hands of the Wagner PMC and «that’ll be a one-way ticket.” Those who refuse to sign the contract are promised to be sent to solitary confinement or to a “special” punishment unit. Gulagu.net also notes that reports of prisoner recruitment by Russia’s Defense Ministry have come from prisons where former members of the security forces are serving their sentences.
On October 11, Russian media outlet SOTA Vision reported that the Wagner PMC sent prisoners to the front forcibly. Prisoners are locked in special premises for new recruits, while all mobile communication is shut off, so that the inmates have no way to contact their families or lawyers.