Russia appears to have resorted to recruiting convicts to fight alongside its infamous Wagner mercenaries in Ukraine, promising them a pardon in return for their service.
A secretly-filmed video has emerged online appearing to show Wagner Group founder and financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin, an oligarch dubbed “Putin’s chef”, training up prisoners.
“Wagner is expending 2.5 times the ammunition fired in Stalingrad,” Mr Prigozhin is heard telling the hundreds of recruits in black uniform, reportedly at a penal colony somewhere in Mordovia – a federal subject of Russia.
Mr Prigozhin reveals that prisoners have already been fighting on the frontlines with Wagner, a shadowy private militia group, saying “in the first attack in Ukraine using 40 prisoners, three died and seven were injured”.
He informs them of Wagner’s rules: “No alcohol, and no sex with local women. No desertions or surrender – troops will be issued two hand grenades to blow themselves up if needed.”
‘If you serve six months you are free’
Those who join must be between 22 and 50 years of age, although maybe older “if fit”.
“Only two oth peerople can get you out of here, God and Allah, and they’ll do it in a wooden coffin. I can get you out alive,” Mr Prigozhin says by way of a pitch.
“Nobody goes back behind bars,” he continues. “If you serve six months (in Wagner), you are free. If you arrive in Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we will execute you.”
Russian law does not allow commuting prison sentences for mercenary service in Ukraine, though it is unclear if exceptions can be made in times of war.