- Russia is believed to have recruited more than 100,000 prisoners to fight in Ukraine, says Newsweek.
- The practise of recruiting prisoners was started by the Wagner Group and continued by the Kremlin.
- Russia’s prison population has dropped from around 420,000 before the war to about 266,000 now.
Russia is believed to have recruited over 100,000 prisoners to fight in Ukraine since the war began, according to various rights advocacy groups.
The estimated figures were provided to Newsweek by Russian dissident-in-exile Vladimir Osechkin, who heads the Gulagu.net anti-corruption project, based on sources in Russia’s prison system.
He said that every week, more than 1,000 of the convict recruits are killed in the war and that, in some cases, older men past retirement age have been recruited to fight.
The Washington Post previously reported that the Russian prison population had dropped from 420,000 before the war to a historic low of about 266,000, per Deputy Justice Minister Vsevolod Vukolov.
“This is a shocking number,” Olga Romanova, the director of the Russia Behind Bars human rights organization, said about Vukolov’s revelation, per The Post.
Prisoners were first recruited to join the fight in Ukraine last summer by the now-deceased Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The firebrand mercenary leader promised prisoners pardons and lured them with financial incentives if they joined up.
Rights groups note that Prigozhin recruited about 50,000 prisoners, and it appears that the Russian Defense Ministry has continued with the practice.
“This means that the Defense Ministry has likely recruited around 100,000 people for the war there,” she Romanova, noting that the numbers far exceed the Wagner recruits.
Her group has also documented cases in which defendants were recruited to join the war before their cases even went to trial.
There has also been controversy as former convicts finish their service in Ukraine, as two men convicted of murder and cannibalism were recently released after they fought.
Russia has been suffering heavy casualties in Ukraine, estimated by the West to be about 300,000.
War analysts have noted that the Russian military has often appeared to rely on human wave tactics, throwing poorly trained troops into massive assaults.
To combat manpower shortages in Ukraine, Russia has sent in prisoners, called up military reservists, and recruited ethnic minorities to fight.
Russia’s military appears to be able to reinforce with recruits continuously, the think tank the Institute for the Study of War said.
The think tank noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin can keep bringing in recruits as long as he is willing to suffer the domestic consequences.