Russia is recruiting prisoners who volunteer to fight in its ongoing war in Ukraine through the Wagner mercenary company, and those who don't want prisoners to fight should send their children to fight instead, Russian oligarch and Wagner co-owner Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a statement Thursday.
The statement, uploaded to the Russian social media platform VKontakte by Prigozhin's company Concord, was made in response to a question from a journalist from the Russian news outlet Komsomolskaya Pravda, which is not to be confused with the similarly named Ukrainian news outlet Ukrainska Pravda.
The journalist inquired about reports that prisoners are being recruited to fight.
"Of course, if I were a prisoner, I would dream of joining... in order to not only redeem my debt to the Motherland, but also to repay it with interest," said Pirogzhin, a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Regarding those who don't want prisoners to be recruited to fight in Ukraine, Pirogzhin said: "Send your children to the front. Either private military contractors and prisoners, or [send] your children - decide for yourself."
"Send your children to the front. Either private military contractors and prisoners, or [send] your children - decide for yourself."Russian oligarch, Putin confidant and Wagner co-owner Yevgeny Prigozhin
Russia recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine
There have already been numerous allegations by Ukraine and other international intelligence reports that Russia is working to recruit prisoners through mercenary groups like Wagner to shore up its heavy losses in the ongoing war, which Russia refers to as a "special military operation."
According to Ukrainian intelligence reports, after signing and fulfilling the contracts with the private military company convicts are promised full amnesty after six months of service. They further claimed that the crime committed by convicts is irrelevant, even if it is murder or other serious crimes.
Wagner has reportedly been taking part in this, as they have also suffered significant losses during the war. Also, despite Prigozhin's claims, UK intelligence claims that Russia's military has lowered its standards for recruits and the training is rushed.
According to reports by the Latvia-based Russian independent investigative news outlet The Insider, Prigozhin personally goes to prisons to recruit prisoners, with Putin having supposedly personally authorized it.
"The prisoners want to leave... get out, go anywhere. Because any place on Earth is better than a Russian prison."Olga Romanova
Why are Russian prisoners going to fight in Ukraine?
The Insider also claims that there is a preference for recruiting prisoners convicted of murder. According to the Russian human rights NGO Russia Behind Bars, so far, up to 10,000 prisoners have already been recruited, including murderers, rapists and one "cannibal maniac."
According to Russia Behind Bars head Olga Romanova in an interview with Lithuania-based Russian dissident news YouTube channel Popular Politics, Prigozhin has also said Wagner is just looking for cannon fodder who charge forward, and any convict that tries to desert will be shot.
This was further detailed in a video showing someone believed to be Pirogzhin telling prisoners about the terms of their recruitment.
"No one retreats, no one surrenders," the person resembling Pirogzhin says, according to The Insider, adding that execution follows.
The video in question was also mentioned by the Pravda journalist to Pirogzhin, who referred to the person as "someone similar to Pirogzhin."
However, Romanova stressed that it seems most prisoners aren't being forced to join the war but are instead willingly volunteering, and not even for the money.
"The prisoners want to leave... get out, go anywhere," she explained to Popular Politics. "Because any place on Earth is better than a Russian prison."
Roman Meitav contributed to this report.