Russian prisoners are now signing contracts with Russia’s defense ministry to fight in Ukraine for an extended period of time, indicating that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war might drag on for another year, according to Russian prisoners’ rights activist Olga Romanova.
Romanova, director of the prisoner rights group Russia Behind Bars, wrote on Telegram on Saturday that the defense ministry has been recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine since February. The recruits would sign contracts with the ministry to fight for six months, but this period has now been extended to 18 months, Romanova said citing reports from the Sverdlovsk and Yaroslavl regions in Russia.
“New about the recruitment of prisoners. Since February, this has been done mainly by the Ministry of Defense. They report from two regions, Sverdlovsk and Yaroslavl: they began to sign contracts with prisoners not for 6 months, as it was before, but for 18. That is, they expect to fight next year as well,” the activist wrote on Telegram.
Putin launched his “special military operation” on Ukraine last February, with confidence that his country would achieve a quick victory against his Eastern European neighbor. However, Ukraine responded with a stronger-than-expected defense effort, mainly bolstered by Western aid that has deterred Russian military goals and limited their advancements. Over a year has passed since the invasion, with combat still concentrated in the easternmost regions of Ukraine, with analysts saying Russia’s attempted winter offenses have largely failed.
Though the fight has extended throughout major Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, Odessa, Kherson, and most recently in Bakhmut, the Russian military experienced a number of setbacks that included a lack of ammunition and proper leadership as well as a shortage in troops.
Still, the Russian military has been supported by the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, a paramilitary unit founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Putin. Prigozhin announced last month that more than 5,000 former prisoners have been released since last summer, after fulfilling their contracts with the group, according to independent news site Meduza. Meanwhile, over 50,000 prisoners have been recruited by the Wagner Group during the winter of 2022, according to Russia Behind Bars.
In February, Prigozhin said that the Wagner Group is no longer recruiting Russian prisoners to fight in the war.
“The recruitment of prisoners by the Wagner private military company has completely stopped,” he told Live24 news outlet at the time. “We are fulfilling all our obligations to those who work for us now.”
A new wave of prisoner recruitments was also reported last month by Ukraine’s defense ministry, and backed by Russia Behind Bars. The ministry reported that “female convicts” were being brought on a train to fight in the Donetsk region.
“Against the background of large losses of personnel in the war, the enemy uses alternative sources of replenishment of manpower,” the ministry posted on Telegram early last month. “Last week, the movement of a train with first-class carriages for the transportation of prisoners was noted towards the Donetsk region. One of the cars contained female prisoners.”
The recruitment comes amid high rates of reported casualties among Russian troops. In March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that more than 1,100 Russian soldiers had been killed in the city of Bakhmut in less than a week. That same month, Ukrainian military spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun said that 1,090 Russian fighters died in one day in what some have said may have been the deadliest day for Russia since the war began.
Source : NewsWeek