The Russian mercenary group Wagner is considered Putin’s shadow army: it is known for its brutal actions and is also active in Ukraine. According to a media report, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close confidant of the Kremlin ruler, is now recruiting mercenaries for the group in Russian prison camps herself. The detainees are offered money and pardons if they fight against Ukraine.
The independent Russian online medium Mediazona has interviewed two prisoners serving their sentences in penal colonies in the Yaroslavl and Tula regions. They report that the prisons were visited by a short, bald man. He offered them freedom and money in exchange for participating in the war against Ukraine. The prisoners recognized the recruiter Yevgeny Prigozhin – also known as “Putin’s cook”. He knows Russian prisons: in the 1980s he served sentences himself for theft, fraud and prostitution of minors. He later founded a catering company that also supplies the Kremlin and the Russian army, hence the nickname.
Mercenary squad must compensate losses
The British Ministry of Defense had already reported in July that the Wagner group had lowered its recruitment standards. Now both convicted criminals and people previously blocked for use would also be hired, it said. This is intended to compensate for the heavy losses that the Ukrainian armed forces inflicted on the mercenaries. However, the new fighters will receive only limited training, which is likely to reduce the effectiveness of the force and thus its value as a support to the Russian military.
According to media reports criticizing the Kremlin, groups of recruiters in Russian colonies have long been on the move, so Prigozhin apparently took matters into his own hands. One inmate told “Mediazona” that almost all of the prisoners from his penal camp in Rybinsk in Yaroslavl Oblast north of Moscow had been called to the parade ground. A minibus pulled up and several plainclothes men got out. One had the medal of the Hero of the Soviet Union on his chest. In the wearer of the gold star, the convict recognized Yevgeny Prigozhin.
“Interested in killers and robbers”
He explained to the prisoners of the penal colony that “World War III is underway” and that it is possible to participate on the side of Russia. “My people go to African countries and leave nothing alive for two days, and now they are doing the same to their enemies in Ukraine,” the prisoner recalls Prigozhin’s speech. The Wagner mercenary group is therefore “mainly interested in murderers and robbers. They are suspicious of drug addicts, the same goes for rapists.”
The account of another prisoner from the penal colony of Playsk in the Tula region south of Moscow is in many ways similar to the story of the first. According to him, Prigozhin kept repeating: “I have special powers from the president, I don’t care about anyone, I have to win this damn war at all costs.” For participating in the invasion of Ukraine, he promised not only money, but also a pardon, removal from the criminal record and, for those without Russian citizenship, a passport.
Bonus for a “dignified” death
Those who accepted the offer were promised 100,000 rubles per month, the equivalent of about 1,620 euros, plus a bonus of the same amount. With a “dignified” death, the family would receive five million rubles, about 80,000 euros. In addition, the mercenary recruiters said that when the prisoners went into battle, they were “not cannon fodder.” The death rate is 15 percent. The inmate told “Mediazona” that other inmates believed them, but he didn’t. He believes that “only a few” will return from Ukraine: “I will not go to war, even if they increase my sentence.”
I’m Wayne Wickman, a professional journalist and author for Today Times Live. My specialty is covering global news and current events, offering readers a unique perspective on the world’s most pressing issues. I’m passionate about storytelling and helping people stay informed on the goings-on of our planet.