Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch known as “Putin’s chef,” has been making the rounds of Russian penal colonies to recruit convicted criminals to fight as mercenaries for the Wagner Group in Ukraine. He’s also on the FBI’s most wanted list (but more on that later).
Olga Romanova, a leading expert on Russia’s prison system, said The Daily Beast Joe Wagner Group is recruiting some of Russia’s “worst criminals.” He said Putin plans to “recruit at least 50,000 convicts” to send to Ukraine. He told guardian that About 11,000 Russian prisoners have already signed up to go to Ukraine, and the number is growing rapidly.
In an interview on the YouTube channel Popular Politics, Romanova said:
“All kinds of criminals are accepted, but priority is given to murderers, robbers and robbers, as Prigozhin himself said. Those who went to prison for causing grievous bodily harm are also welcome. And now they have begun to recruit people who were convicted of rape, but they must serve in a separate unit. We know two stories from the Saratov colonies, absolutely terrible places, one of them very special. Yes. They recruited a madman from there, who had cannibalism in his portfolio. He even went to war.”
Romanova heads the NGO Russia Behind Bars. which provides legal and charitable assistance to Russia’s prison population and their families. He said his team recognized at least one prisoner he helped in a video released by Ukrainian authorities of a captured Russian fighter. The ex-prisoner said Wagner’s group only trained him for a week before sending him to the battlefield.
Earlier this month, a leaked video showing a man resembling Prigogine went viral on Russian social media. The man was shown telling prisoners that they would be released if they served six months on the front lines with the Wagner Group in Ukraine. “We only need shock troops,” the man said, stressing that the war is tougher than the one in Chechnya. And he warned that any deserters would be shot by firing squad.
guardian In different penal colonies spoke to four prisoners and three close family members of the prisoners Russia All of whom gave similar accounts of how Prigogine was personally recruiting in prisons. Prisoners said Prigogine was offering a salary of 100,000 rubles ($1,650) a month. If they died, their families were to receive a lump sum payment of 5 million rubles ($82,600).
On social media, Prigozhin defended the recruitment of prisoners, telling his critics: “It’s either private military contractors and prisoners. [fighting in Ukraine] Or your children–decide for yourself” guardian reported
And which prisoners are being recruited by the Wagner group? Ruslan Vakhapov, an attorney from Russia behind bars, told The Daily Beast that the Wagner group actually “captured mostly people convicted of murders … and robberies.”
“But now, their fishing net takes in everyone, including the cannibals. So far we know of one case of recruitment into Russian cannibals,” Vakhapov said.
“It’s time to look at this phenomenon, before they start recruiting in orphanages.”
“The worst characters go to Ukraine,” he added. “I just spoke to the wife of a convicted serial killer in Kostroma. He was to spend another five years behind bars, but Wagner had released him, so the wife feared he might [come back] And attack her for filing for divorce.
Wagner Group mercenaries are fighting mostly in the Donetsk region where they have made steady progress in an intense battle centered on capturing the town of Bakhmut. But they are taking heavy casualties as they continue to try to secure at least one victory for Putin while Russian forces are retreating elsewhere.
CNN reporter Nick Patton Walsh recently visited the front at Bakhmut and reported:
Walsh explained that Ukrainian forces under attack in Bakhmut are facing off against Russian mercenaries, including convicts sent to the front line:
The city has been the focus of Russian forces in recent weeks, even as they abandon positions around Kharkiv and appear to be struggling to hold ground elsewhere. According to multiple Russian media reports, Wagner mercenaries have been deployed to that battle, and are making gains around the city’s eastern edges.
Mercenary attacks are often devastatingly deadly: Ukrainians tell CNN that Wagner fighters run into them with small arms attacks, prompting Ukrainians to fire back to defend their positions. The gunfire then reveals where the Ukrainians are, allowing Russian artillery to aim with greater precision.
Attacks are regular, and shelling is almost constant. …
Here, a Ukrainian officer, known by his call sign “Price,” tells CNN about the last Russian they took prisoner… “There was a Wagner guy that we captured. He was a convict, From Russia – I don’t remember exactly where. It was shoot or surrender for him. They work professionally, not like normal infantry units,” he said.
Romanova told The Daily Beast that her team began hearing reports of prison admissions in Ukraine in early June.
“Almost all the killers are recruited under our watch and they die like flies in Ukraine. Of the first 42 convicts recruited in the first group, only three survived, from the second group of 66 convicts, only six returned, including one who had lost his arm,” said Romanova.
Wagner Group has already had some tenants Accused of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Members of the mercenary group have also been linked to human rights abuses Syria And Many African countries Where they have been deployed to serve Putin’s interests. There is a real fear that prisoner recruiters may be inclined to commit atrocities in Ukraine if given the opportunity.
Rob Lee, a military analyst, said guardian that the recruitment of prison inmates may “fill some holes” in the short term, but will do little to address Russia’s “critical” manpower shortage. “Armies are effective when there is clear hierarchy and unity,” Lee said. “I can’t even imagine the disciplinary problems the inmates will bring.”
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is serving a lengthy prison sentence for opposing the Putin regime, tweeted that Russian prisons are full of people with “major discipline problems and even bigger problems with alcohol and drugs.” He said: “What can such an army even do in battle?” (His entire Twitter thread is worth reading.)
Romanova said guardian that Wagner’s recruitment of prisoners to fight for a private mercenary army was “completely illegal on many levels.” His group is trying to help families dissuade inmates from signing up with Wagner. “Every prisoner who doesn’t go there potentially saves a Ukrainian life,” he said.
And now that Putin has announced a “partial demobilization,” it’s unclear whether conscripted prisoners will be allowed to go home with amnesty after six months. The mobilization orders extended the contracts of regular Russian military troops indefinitely until the end of the “special military operation.” It is not known whether the same rules will apply to private mercenaries.
Not all prisoners recruited to fight in Ukraine want to die for Mother Russia. Ukrainian journalist Yuri Butusov wrote about a Russian POW, YEvgeniy Nuzhin, who surrendered to Ukrainian forces. In the interview, Nuzin recounted his journey from a prison in Russia’s Ryazan region where he was serving a long sentence for murder to a Wagner boot camp in Ukraine’s Luhansk region, and finally to the battlefield on September 2. went He said several recruits were briefly booted from the Wagner boot camp for insubordination.
“As far as I understand, [we were there to serve as] Cannon fodder,” Nuzin said. “If you don’t follow the instructions or if you do something wrong, they will disable you. shoot you.” They called it ‘neutralisation’.
Nuzin was captured by Ukrainian forces September 4.
“I had decided to surrender long ago. … here [in Ukraine]There is A group of defectors and volunteers from Russia and other countries who fight alongside the Ukrainian army, and they asked people to come,” Nuzin said. “And then, when all this [recruitment] started talking I told myself that when I arrived, I would do whatever it took to surrender so that I could try to make it. [to the Freedom for Russia legion].“
Prigozhin himself is no stranger to the Russian prison system: he spent nine years in prison after being convicted of robbery, fraud and involving youths in crime. After his release from prison, Prigogine and his stepfather set up a lucrative business selling hot dogs. Within a few years, he had established a restaurant, catering and casino business in St. Petersburg. He gained fame as Putin’s chef when he founded a luxury floating restaurant known as New Island, which Putin used to celebrate his birthday and to entertain visiting leaders such as former French President Jacques Chirac and former US President George W. Bush. was used
After becoming Putin’s confidant, Prigozhin secured lucrative contracts to provide less fancy meals to school children, government workers and the military. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation has accused Prigozhin of corrupt business practices.
For years, Prigozhin denied that he was closely associated with the Wagner group, despite ample evidence to the contrary. But on Monday, the oligarch admitted he founded the private catering company in 2014, in a statement released on social media by his company Concorde Catering. In his statement, Prigozhin said the catalyst for founding the Wagner group in May 2014 was to support Russian-backed separatist movements in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, according to CNN.
Asked why he has now denied his involvement with the Wagner group, Prigogine said in his social media post: “For a long time I avoided the blows of many opponents with one main goal – so that these guys could not be prepared. [fighters]which are the basis of Russian patriotism.
Putin annexed Crimea and supported separatists in Donbas after the Euromaidan revolution ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was paid millions of dollars as a political consultant to Yanukovych’s party.
CNN suggested that Prigozhin’s emergence from the shadows “could reflect the shifting balance of power in Russia as Putin’s campaign in Ukraine falters.” CNN wrote:
An ever-growing list of battlefield failures has led Russian military bloggers to suggest in posts on platforms such as Telegram that a new man is needed to take over the war effort. That man, many believe, must be Prigozhin.
These factors may go some way to explain his sudden love for the camera – and the first open recognition of his role in Wagner.
“In the last two months, he has tried to get more credit, and public recognition and has become an unlikely hero for militants, even other soldiers who are unhappy with the incompetence of their military leaders. And YPs are taking a very aggressive stance,” Christo Grozev from BallingCat, an online research organization, told CNN in an interview conducted before Prigozhin’s announcement.
And in the United States, Prigozhin has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of organizing funding and conducting operations for the purpose of interfering with American political and electoral processes, including the 2016 presidential election.
His St. Petersburg-based troll factory, the Internet Research Agency, has been accused of trying to undermine Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Prigogine is on the FBI’s wanted list and the State Department has offered a reward of up to $10 million for information about Prigogine and the Internet Research Agency. The United States seized assets of Prigogine and his family following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.