The Russian authorities are recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine with the promise of almost £3,000 and their sentences being annulled if they come back alive after six months, new report claims.
Inmates are being actively recruited in St Petersburg jails, according to independent media outlet IStories.
The report said the convicts are told they will be put on the frontline to hunt down ‘Nazis’ in Ukraine in an arrangement that suggests they will be deployed as cannon fodder.
Private military company Wagner is reported to be behind a recruitment drive at penal colonies number 7 ‘Yablonevka’, number 6 ‘Obukhovo’, and number 4 Fornosovo.
The FSB security service, once headed by Putin is also reported to be involved.
If true, the reports indicate the desperation of Russia to mobilise from unexpected quarters, an indication that more conventional recruitment bids are failing with commanders worried about manpower shortages.
A relative of one convict said: ‘So-called ‘inspectors’ came to Yablonevka on Friday evening.
‘They talked to convicts and asked them to “defend Motherland”….
‘My relative was told this: “It is very hard to find Nazis, they are prepared very well.
‘You will be in vanguard, help find the Nazis – this is why not everyone will return”.
‘At first, they said that about 20 per cent would return. ‘Then — that “almost no one will come back”.
‘Those who survive are promised a reward of 200,000 roubles [£2,800] and an amnesty.
‘And if he dies, they promise to pay the family 5 million rubles [£70,000]. ‘But this is all words, it will not be recorded anywhere on paper.’
A source told IStories: ‘About 200 people wanted to sign up, but in the end they registered about 40, and they were even tested on a lie detector.
‘My loved one wanted to agree, but we, relatives, made a tantrum with threats.
‘Now he swears that he will not go, but he definitely hesitates, because he sees this as an opportunity to earn money.
‘He says: “If the worst happens, I will earn you the money for an apartment”.’
A relative of a prisoner who was selected to fight with Wagner said: ‘He was bribed with the promise that in six months he would return home and his criminal record would be wiped out.
‘In addition, when six months have passed and those wanting to continue serving will be provided with a job.’
It was claimed the inmates would be sent to war without passports or identification tokens.
Another source, Vladimir Osechkin, exiled founder of human rights group gulagu.net, said that FSB officers were ‘currently recruiting volunteers for Donbas among prisoners’ in Yablonevka.
Convicts ‘are openly told that they will have neither documents nor a badge, and their bodies will not be given to their relatives [in the event they are killed]’, he said.
Those selected after agreeing to fight are taken away almost immediately.
The men were signing a ‘bonded contract’ with Wagner, it was claimed.
‘Prisoner’s families are horrified by what is happening,’ said gulag.net.
‘Many have wives, children. Convicts who have agreed to leave talk like zombies with their relatives….
‘Please help stop this lawlessness. Convicts who have families waiting for them cannot voluntarily agree to this.
‘The state in which the convicts are in the colony does not allow them to make [an informed] choice. Please help.’