More than 130 days into Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” against Ukraine, Russia’s Defense Ministry is apparently counting on prison inmates and shipyard workers to serve as fresh cannon fodder.
The desperate new recruiting drive has been reported in St. Petersburg, where the families of inmates at two prisons say the Wagner Group—a private Russian military force that has been tied to the Kremlin—is offering prisoners money and a get-out-of-jail-free card to go “search for Nazis” in Ukraine, according to the independent Russian news outlet iStories.
“They told my relative, ‘It’s very hard to find the Nazis there, and they are very well-prepared. You will be at the forefront in helping to detect Nazis, so not everyone will return.’ At first they said about 20 percent would come back. Then that ‘almost nobody will return.’ Those who survive are promised 200,000 rubles and amnesty. And if someone dies, they promise to pay their family 5 million rubles. This is all only in words, nothing is fixed on paper,” an unnamed relative of one of the inmates told the outlet.
At least 40 inmates signed up to join the war at that prison, the relative said. The inmates, after being urged to “defend the motherland,” were reportedly told it would look like they were being transferred but they’d be dropped off at the border with Ukraine.
“Wagner is recruiting people. No one is hiding that, the [prison foremen] are saying that directly,” the inmate’s relative said.
Family members of another inmate who agreed to join the war told iStories he’d done so because he genuinely believed he’d have his conviction expunged and be free upon his return. But it seems the recruiters aren’t really expecting any of the inmates to make it back alive: Relatives of an inmate at a separate prison said the men were told they’d be sent into the war without any identification documents.
Workers at two St. Petersburg shipyards managed by the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation and sanctioned oligarch Alisher Usmanov’s Metalloinvest have also reportedly been targeted as part of a recruiting drive by Russia’s Defense Ministry.
The Moscow Times’ Russian service reported Tuesday that workers at the Admiralty and the Baltic shipyards were offered contracts with monthly salaries of 300,000 rubles ($5,300) to go fight in Ukraine.
“They offered it to those with good experience, age has nothing to do with it. For example, they gave a call-up notice to one older employee who went through the Second Chechen War,” one of the employees told the Times.
Workers at Lebedinsky mining and processing works in Belgorod, owned by Usmanov’s Metalloinvest, described similar efforts, though the company has denied that.