The MoD wrote in its daily update on Tuesday that Vladimir Putin may have turned to “non-traditional recruitment” to swell Russia’s decimated ranks as its war in Ukraine drags on. The convicts are thought to be joining Russia’s infamous Wagner Group of mercenaries, who have maintained a presence in Ukraine for nearly a decade.
They have been accused of war crimes and human rights abuses across the globe.
The MoD wrote on Twitter: “Russian Armed Forces’ personnel shortages may be forcing the Russian MOD to turn to non-traditional recruitment.
“This includes recruiting personnel from Russian prisons for the Wagner Private Military Company.
“If true, this move likely indicates difficulties in replacing the significant numbers of Russian casualties.”
The number of Russian casualties in Ukraine is not known, but the Ukrainian Centre for Countering Disinformation recently reported that “more than 22,200 vacancies for contract servicemen have appeared in regional employment centres of the Russian Federation”.
But the Kremlin continues to stop short of announcing mass mobilisation, which is likely to be domestically unpopular.
It was reported last week that Russian prisoners were being offered almost £3,000 – and their freedom – to fight for Moscow in Ukraine with the Wagner Group.
Inmates’ relatives told Russian news outlet iStories that their family members had been promised 200,000 rubles each month and their sentence cut short if they accept and survive six months of “voluntary” military service.
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Professor Tracey German of King’s College London described how the Wagner Group offer Vladimir Putin’s government “a force which is deniable” to be wielded at will.
She told the BBC: “Its mercenaries are thought to be some of the ‘little green men’ who occupied the region.”
She added: “About 1,000 of its mercenaries then supported the pro-Russian militias fighting for control of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.”
Although “running a mercenary army is against the Russian constitution”, the group is of real value to Moscow, she argued.
She said: “Wagner provides the government with a force which is deniable.
“Wagner can get involved abroad and the Kremlin can say: ‘It has nothing to do with us’.”