Desperate Putin causes Russian crisis as he ramps up convicts being sent to war

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun3,2024

Russia is relying so much on prisoners to beef up the ranks of regiments fighting in Ukraine that it is emptying several penal colonies.

Some 150,000 Russian convicts are believed to have been sent to the frontline since Vladimir Putin ordered the unlawful and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the late leader of the mercenary Wagner Group, pioneered for Russia the idea of promising pardons and freedom to convicts in exchange for their service on the Ukrainian frontline.

His aggressive campaign of recruiting, which reportedly saw him going from one penal colony to another, began in late 2022 and gathered a 50,000-strong army.

Around the time of Prigozhin’s recruiting effort, Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service stopped publishing its detailed statistics after sharing data showing the male prison population in Russia had declined by 23,000 in just two months.

Following the plane crash in August last year that claimed the lives of Prigozhin and other leading Wagner figures, Russia followed in his footsteps and started recruiting tens of thousands of prisoners.

Olga Romanova, the director of the Russia Behind Bars human rights organisation, told the Washington Post in October last year that the Russian Defence Ministry had likely recruited some 100,000 prisoners up to that moment, after analysing available data.

The Russian prison population was estimated to be at roughly 420,000 before the invasion of Ukraine but to have plummeted to a historic low of 266,000 in October 2023, according to data shared at the time by the then Deputy Justice Minister Vsevolod Vukolov.

Data considering the prison population in Russia between March 2023 and 2024 reportedly showed a major dip that is prompting the closure of as many as 88 jails in Russia out of 900, the Mirror reported.

The recruiting of prisoners is unlikely to slow down as the war continues. Rather, in March the Russian Duma approved new legislation allowing defendants to sign up for the war even before being convicted and entering jail.

According to this new law, signing a contract with the army would immediately halt prosecution and even the investigation into the defendant’s case.

Russia expert Bruce Jones said: “The decline in the Russian prison population is mainly related to the illegal invasion of Ukraine, as well as changes in Russian social conditions.

“It is due to tens of thousands of conscripted convict mercenaries being annihilated or seriously disabled in Putin’s conflict with Ukraine. Also criminals are conscious of the likelihood of being sent to war and killed if found guilty and jailed. Criminals are more ‘choosy’ and careful in the choice of the crimes that they commit. And there are fewer police officers available and fewer arrests being made, with the criminal justice system, because of fewer resources, also under strain.”

Reports on the dwindling number of Russian prisoners come as Putin surprisingly announced on June 14 he would immediately enter peace talks should Ukraine be willing to accept two conditions he put forward for a ceasefire.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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