By Paul Goble
Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has organized private military companies in the past, reportedly has told Russian prisoners that he wants to recruit as many as 50,000 of them to fight in Ukraine in order to ensure a Russian victory there, according to Olga Romanova, the head of the Russia Behind Bars organization.
She says this program, which lacks legal sanction but has Putin’s imprimatur, has been going on even before the start of the war but that as of now, only about 5,000 prisoners have been signed up, many in the hopes of high pay and all with a promise that they will have their sentences commuted (theins.ru/opinions/olga-romanova/254649).
Some of this recruitment effort is individual but most is camp by camp, with jailers announcing that the camp must be remodeled and that inmates must choose between being relocated even further from their homes or serve in the private military companies and have a chance for freedom.
While the number of people involved is still small, the FSB has sought to throw the cover of secrecy over the program, lest it spark anger or fears about how such people will act either in the military or after their service. According to Romanova, her investigators have been threatened with trumped up charges if they continue to look into the matter.
As a result, information about the program is still scarce and in most cases anecdotal, but it is clear that this program is taking off and that if Russian forces continue to suffer losses in Ukraine at the current rate, the share of forces there recruited from criminal elements in Russia is only going to increase.