Russia is offering prisoners their freedom in exchange for fighting in Ukraine, as Moscow struggles to replenish its ranks: report

Russia is offering prisoners their freedom in exchange for fighting in Ukraine, as Moscow struggles to replenish its ranks: report
·3 min read
Russian soldiers walks along a street in Mariupol on April 12, 2022.
Russian soldiers walks along a street in Mariupol on April 12, 2022.Photo by ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images)
  • Russian forces are recruiting prisoners across seven regions to fight in Ukraine, the AP reported.

  • It cited the case of a St. Petersburg penal colony where eight out of 11 volunteers died in battle.

  • Reports continue to emerge of Russia struggling to replenish its demoralized troops in Ukraine.

Russian forces are offering prisoners amnesty if they agree to fight in Ukraine, a sign that Moscow is resorting to more desperate measures to find fresh reinforcements for its war in the Donbas, according to a Thursday report by The Associated Press.

The outlet reported a case involving at least 11 prisoners from a St. Petersburg penal colony who were approached by men in uniform and then presented with the option of fighting in Ukraine in exchange for their freedom.

The AP cited an anonymous woman whose boyfriend was imprisoned in the colony and was approached with such a proposal.

Insider could not independently verify the accuracy of the report. However, it aligns with British intelligence reports from July that said the Wagner Group — which has Kremlin-tied mercenaries deployed in Ukraine — might be trying to recruit incarcerated people.

The anonymous woman told the AP that her boyfriend did not accept the offer and said to her that eight of the 11 volunteers had since died in battle in Ukraine. One of them said he regretted his decision and believed he wouldn't return alive, she told the outlet.

It's unclear if this particular case involves the Wagner Group, but Vladimir Osechkin, the founder of a prisoner rights group called Gulagu.net, told the AP that the mercenary group has been trying to recruit inmates in as many as seven regions across Russia.

He estimated that around 1,500 prisoners have signed up for the war, per the AP.

Osechkin told the outlet that this information had come from inmates themselves and their relatives, including many volunteers who later contacted him and said they no longer wanted to be deployed.

He said the Wagner Group had initially approached prisoners with military or law enforcement backgrounds. However, recruitment efforts have since expanded beyond such requirements, per the AP.

Multiple reports have emerged over the last six months of Russian troops trying to quit their deployment in Ukraine, as Moscow's invasion went into repeated deadlock and morale sank.

The Pentagon estimated on Tuesday that Russia has suffered around 80,000 casualties in Ukraine, compared to the 160,000 troops it had amassed around Ukraine's borders before the invasion began.

In a bid to attract more personnel, Russia has offered large signing bonuses — worth around $5,200 — to new recruits, The Moscow Times reported in May.

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported last week that an increasing number of Russian contract soldiers — men as young as 18 who sign up to fight alongside professional forces for a salary — are being jailed for saying they want to leave Ukraine.

Per The Washington Post, 70% of Russia's army is comprised of contract soldiers who serve for around three years and are paid $1,100 per month for their service.

Citing human rights activists in Russia, Deutsche Welle reported that the contract soldiers in Ukraine looking to return home are known as "refuseniks" in the Russian army and have been held in prison or labor camps in the Donbas region.

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