Russian prison inmates pardoned for fighting with the Wagner mercenary group in Ukraine are reportedly now being recruited into the Russian National Guard.
The investigative news site Important Stories said in a Sept. 11 report that the convicts began joining the National Guard (Rosgvardiya) last month, Russia’s internal armed forces, which consists of an independent agency that reports directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin as commander-in-chief under his powers, reported Current Time, a Prague-based Russian-language television station founded by the U.S. organizations Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America.
The site cited internal conversations and text messages from relatives. Prisoners recruited last year by the late Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin and sent into battle in eastern Ukraine suffered high rates of death or injury. After Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash last month, the Kremlin moved to take over his operations.
Some relatives of former convicts contacted by Important Stories said that their relatives were invited to serve in the Russian Guard after serving in the Wagner Group. But not everyone was recruited, only those who had been convicted of lesser crimes. At the same time, the sources of this medium say that they did not take leadership positions or middle officer positions.
A journalist, who introduced himself as a former mercenary of Wagner, confirmed that militants from the ranks of prisoners have a chance to enter this unit even without experience in the regular army, but everything depends on the type of crime committed.
In the Rostov Division of the Russian Guard, the investigators were asked to sign a contract as a member of the National Guard troops and go to guard strategic facilities in the occupied part of the Donetsk region of Ukraine.
In late August, after the death of Wagner’s founder Prigozhin in a plane crash in the Tver region, Important Stories reported that Wagner himself had advised the mercenaries to find another job because of competition with the Russian Defense Ministry Africa and the Middle East. In addition, Belarus began to dismantle the camp where Wagner members who had been resettled from Russia after the June uprising were located.
A few months earlier, as part of his cooperation with Putin, Prigozhin had shown a video in a Russian prison showing rows of prisoners wearing identical black hats, in the recruitment of which he favored convicts who had killed more than once, and criminals who had beaten a government official or policeman to recruit them.
“We need your criminal talent,” he had said, warning them that 10 to 15% would return from Ukraine “in zinc coffins.”
But he had promised that those who survived six months on the front lines could go home with a bonus of 100,000 rubles ($1,000) and, most important, a pardon.
In June 2023, President Putin publicly confirmed for the first time that he had signed presidential pardons for prisoners who had returned from the war in Ukraine.
Prigozhin said Wagner recruited 49,000 prisoners to fight in one year and only 32,000 returned. That is a much smaller percentage than he had originally promised. Independent researchers, however, believe the actual number of survivors is even lower, about 20,000./The Geopost/