Sunday, February 25, 2024

Russia Tightens Rules:No Early Freedom or Pardons for Russian Prisoners Fighting in Ukraine War

HomeWARRussia Tightens Rules:No Early Freedom or Pardons for Russian Prisoners Fighting in...

Over the last year, Russia has recruited an estimated 50,000 prisoners to fight on the front lines of its invasion of Ukraine. Initially lured by the promise of freedom and a clean slate after just 6 months of service, these convicted felons now face a much harsher and unpredictable reality.

The First Wave: Tempting Terms to Fill Ranks

When recruitment of Russian prisoners began in summer 2022 under Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group, the offer was almost too good to be true. Inmates who volunteered to fight would receive a full pardon of their crimes and release to return home after serving only 6 months in combat.

For convicts facing years more behind bars, it presented a miraculous chance at not just freedom but a fresh start. By fall 2022, around 50,000 prisoners had signed on, as cited by Russian human rights activists.

But there was a heavy price to pay for this get-out-of-jail opportunity. Estimates indicate thousands of those deployed in this first wave never made it back — killed in battles across Ukraine. Many others simply went missing, fallen or abandoned somewhere amid the fog of war.

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Still, those who did survive their 6 month stint got to walk free, including violent offenders who went on to commit further crimes back in Russia. But the days of easy redemption were about to end.

The Rules Change: No More Quick Freedom

When the Russian military took over the prisoner recruitment program in February 2023, the incentives and realities shifted substantially. Branded as “Storm V” army units, these battalions composed of convicts now faced open-ended deployment until “the end of the war.”

Whereas before they could expect to get back home after half a year of service, their sentences were now essentially being extended indefinitely. Sergei, a current Storm V soldier obtained insider knowledge on this new approach, confirming that “you have to make it until the end of the war” with no option of simply putting in 6 months then walking away.

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On top of the longer service, the pardon arrangements have also been rescinded. Instead of earned freedom no matter their fate, convicts now receive only “conditional release” at the completion of a 1 year contract. So if they get injured or manage to survive a full year of brutal fighting, they still have lingering punishments hanging over their head for old crimes if they offend again.

Meat Grinders With Little Training or Hope

Illustrating the hellish fate of these penal platoons, some convicts have reported being given only 3-10 days of training before getting thrown into the fires of combat. And their chances of coming out of this inferno are slim — Sergei estimates only a 25% survival rate after half a year on the frontline.

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Those refusing to enter the grinder also face savage retaliation, with accounts of food deprivation, beatings, and being consigned screaming into burial pits. Once in battle, the coercion continues through human wave attacks where convicts get used as disposable cannon fodder to little strategic effect.

Between the traumatic violence and terrors endured under virtually indefinite contract, combined with dwindling hopes of actually making it home, morale has plunged. “I already know I won’t make it,” writes Sergei in one chilling line, while over 1100 confirmed deaths among convict soldiers speaks to the nightmarish outcomes.

For Russians considering this pact with the devil, the emerging realities are clear. The odds of trading prison for an early grave continue rising. And notions of quick freedom or redemption are relics of the past. Now convict recruits can expect little more than a one-way ticket to the Eastern Front’s endless meat grinder.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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