The Defense Ministry had pushed through a bill to adopt the same dubious method of recruiting prison volunteers pioneered by the private mercenary group Wagner Group. Parliament approved it on Tuesday, the latest sign of the Kremlin’s desperate quest to recruit soldiers to stop the Ukrainian counter-offensive.

As the Ukrainian army’s counteroffensive begins, the Kremlin is looking for new ways to replenish the ranks of its frontline combat units. To this end, the Duma, the Russian parliament, approved a law on Tuesday “On the particularities of the criminal responsibility of persons involved in a special military operation.”

The law will exempt from criminal liability those who sign a contract with the Russian Defense Ministry or have been recruited for a mobilization, even if they committed a crime before the enactment of the law. The first draft of the law excludes those convicted of violent crimes such as murder or rape.

Of course, those who follow the war in Ukraine know that the Duma is not the first to discover this recruitment opportunity: a year ago, Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group paramilitary group, had first proposed this very idea to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

With Putin’s consent, Prigozhin began visiting penal colonies in different regions of Russia and promised the prisoners clemency in exchange for six months’ service in his army. During his recruitment, he freed some 50,000 prisoners convicted of crimes of varying severity.

As previously reported, Prigozhin recruited everyone indiscriminately, with inmates with a history of murder being especially prized. In the late spring of 2023, he had to stop this recruitment process because Putin saw no progress on the front lines, while people saw many coffins going back to Russia.

More recently, Prigozhin has fallen out of favor and made an enemy of the Russian Defense Ministry, which has nevertheless chosen to adopt his questionable recruiting methods.

Objectives and timing of punishment

The authors of the new law, Senator Andrei Klishas and deputies from the pro-Putin United Russia party Pavel Krasheninnikov and Irina Pankina are known for preparing legislation that pleases the president; This year alone, Putin has signed 14 of the 17 laws initiated by Klishas.

Their criminal records would also be expunged.

Under the law, persons who have already been convicted at the time of joining the armed forces will also be exempt from punishment. Their criminal records would also be expunged.

The authors believe that bringing criminals to the front “will help achieve punishment goals and provide additional opportunities for army manning.”

Recruitment propaganda in full force

According to the current law, convicted citizens can be called up for military service, except for those who have committed crimes against sexual inviolability and those convicted of terrorism, treason, espionage and other serious and grave crimes.

However, budgetary organizations in Moscow already help convicted citizens to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense and receive additional payments through fictitious jobs.

An April report revealed that propaganda videos being broadcast in Russian prisons describe the war as a great opportunity for prisoners; reports recently released Yuli Boyarshinov: “Everything is great. (Russia is on) the offensive on all fronts; you can get cool and interesting experience. Two hundred thousand a month. You have to go.” Some criticize this information or say it is not the whole truth. Maybe five percent of those convicted think about this information critically,” says Boyarshinov, jailed since 2018 on terrorism charges.

By Anna Akage