It may sound like something straight out of “The Dirty Dozen,” but the Kremlin reportedly is offering convicts a “Get Out of Jail Free” card if they’re willing to fight for Russia in Ukraine.
Russian prisoners are being offered to have their sentences cleared and a $3,500 bonus if they come back alive after six months. Inmates are being recruited in St. Petersburg jails, according to the British newspaper the Daily Mail.
The convicts are being told they will be put on the front line of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to “hunt down Nazis,” the Daily Mail said, citing the independent news agency IStories.
IStories was founded by former Russian reporters who left the country during President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on non-official news outlets.
At first, the amnesty program was focused solely on prisoners with previous military experience. But it was eventually opened to all convicts, except for those serving 20 years or more behind bars for “the most heinous crimes,” the Daily Mail said.
“About 200 people wanted to sign up, but in the end they registered about 40, and they were even tested on a lie detector,” a source told IStores.
If the reports are true, the prisoner recruitment is a sign of the difficulties Russia has had keeping troops on the battlefield in Ukraine. Moscow has been forced to dip into its reserve forces and recall retired officers to fill its ranks.
The estimates of Russian combat deaths vary widely, from about 1,300 acknowledged by Moscow to more than 35,000 claimed by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.
The British government said Russia has lost about 15,000 troops, while the BBC said it has been able to confirm 4,010 deaths.
Russian security services and the Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary organization with ties to the Kremlin, are believed to be involved in the prisoner recruitment, according to the Daily Mail.
The recruited convicts are told they will be issued no official documents during their service in Ukraine and their bodies will not be returned to their relatives if they are killed, Vladimir Osechkin, exiled founder of the human rights group gulagu.net said, according to the Daily Mail.
Those selected after agreeing to fight are taken away almost immediately, the newspaper reported.