Olga Romanova, a leading expert on Russia’s prison system, said the Kremlin’s latest recruiting tactic in the Ukraine war was her “worst nightmare.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Vladimir Putin’s shady private army, the Wagner Group, has been traveling to a Russian prison concentration camp, according to military analysts and a video that appeared on Russian prison cables. To recruit convicted criminals to fight in Ukraine.
Romanova, who has spent the past 15 years monitoring Russia’s prison population, said as head of Russia in Prisons, the recruiting campaign targets some of Russia’s “worst criminals.”
“Putin’s plan was to recruit at least 50,000 criminals, and Prigozin himself is a former criminal who has sent more than 3,000” prisoners to Ukraine, including “serial killers, robbers and at least one cannibal,” Romanova told The Daily Beast.
As part of their work, “Russia in Prisons” provides legal and charitable assistance to Russia’s 500,000 prison population and is often in contact with prisoners’ families. Romanova told The Daily Beast that they started hearing reports of prison recruits being deployed to Ukraine as early as June. “If they went through prisons in central Russia in July and August, yesterday they went to the Urals, [which] There are more than 35 concentration camps and prisons. “
On September 3, Romanova’s team said they were horrified to recognize a prisoner they had worked with in a video released by Ukrainian officials of a captured Russian fighter jet. According to Romanova, he is still wearing some of the underwear that the organization gave him as an aid package.
The man, whose hands were tied, beaten and bled, was recorded fighting in Ukraine with “ashniks” – free civilian recruits – and “kashniks” – Russian criminals. “We’re not a battalion, we’re just a group of people. Wagner took us…showed us what to do, but you can’t learn it in a week,” said Ramonova, the prisoner who was killed before being sent to fight in Ukraine Sentenced to nine years in prison, he said in the video.
Ruslan Vakhapov, a lawyer for Russia in prison, said the Wagner group had visited at least three prisons in Russia’s Yaroslavl region. “Originally, Wagner caught mostly those convicted of homicide (section 105 of the Penal Code) and robbery (section 162). But now, their nets take everyone in, including piranhas So far, we know of one case of cannibal recruitment in Russia,” Vakhapov told The Daily Beast.
“Now is the time to study this phenomenon, before they start recruiting in orphanages.“
“The darkest figures go to Ukraine,” he added. “I just spoke to the wife of a serial killer convicted in Kostroma. He was supposed to be in prison for another five years, but Wagner released him, so the wife was afraid he might [come back] And attacked her to file for divorce. “
Vakhapova and Romanova told The Daily Beast that since late June, Russia Behind Bars has received a series of panicked calls from convicts and relatives in remote prison camps discussing war recruitment. According to them, Prigozin, known as “Putin’s cook”, promised to set criminals free after serving on the front line for six months.
“Almost all the murderers we monitored were recruited and they died like flies in Ukraine. Of the first 42 criminals recruited in the first group, only 3 survived, and in the second group of 66 criminals, only 6 People returned, including one who lost an arm,” Romanova told The Daily Beast.
In Ukraine, Prigozin’s army is often referred to as the “Army of Orcs and Goblins”, referring to the Lord of the Rings.
Anton Naumlyuk, founder of Ukraine’s Graty Media Group, told The Daily Beast: “By arming these goblins and sending the psychotic and the lunatic to the front, Putin has shown the weakness of his army, which has been badly defeated.”
Russian law officially prohibits private military operations, but Putin often embellishes private Wagner group mercenaries for their covert operations in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine. The Wagner Group launched its first business in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in 2015.
“This phenomenon … should be widely discussed because it speaks to the heart of Russian power,” Wagner Group veteran Marat Gabbidulin told The Daily Beast. “Prigozhin has unlimited powers and he can kick open the doors of any prison colony. Now is the time to study this phenomenon, before they start recruiting in orphanages.”