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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Report: After Wagner Group, Now Russia's Official Military Is Recruiting Prisoners For War

Desperate to supply depleting forces in Ukraine, Russia's defense ministry has taken up the dubious recruiting method of offering prisoners freedom in exchange for going off to war. The same technique was begun but then halted in February by the Wagner Group mercenaries. It's Putin's latest attempt to avoid a nationwide mobilization.

Photo of the boots of the conscripts lining up at an assembly station of St Petersburg's army recruitment office before departing for service with the Russian Armed Forces

Conscripts line up at an assembly station of St Petersburg's army recruitment office before departing for service with the Russian Armed Forces

Anna Akage

Russia's notorious mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group, had shocked many last summer when it began recruiting soldiers from prisons to fight in Ukraine. After dubious results and high death counts among the ranks, that practice was halted in February. But now, sources say the Russian state military has started up its own prison recruitment campaign in a last-ditch effort to send more men to the front and delay a nationwide draft.

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With the personal approval of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Wagner had offered prisoners pardons and payment in exchange for six months of service. As many as 50,000 prisoners took the offer – and by early 2023, three out of four of them had been killed, the Ukrainian military estimates.

By February , Wagner called an end to the prison recruitment campaign. Some observers believe the effort ended because the Wagner group and its owner Yevgeny Prigozhin fell out of favor with Putin after failing to make much progress at the front.

But Putin hasn’t given up the idea of turning to prisoners to supply manpower to the frontline, even if untrained and unmotivated. According to Russian NGO Gulagu.net, which investigates corruption and torture in Russian prisons, the Russia's defense ministry is now recruiting directly from prisons – and their standards are reportedly even looser than Wagner’s.

If Wagner recruiters looked for strong, ruthless killers and fighters, the defense ministry is willing to take anyone, regardless of age, health or criminal record.

Photo of the \u200bfounder and leader of the Wagner Group  Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Founder and leader of the Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Konkord Company Press Service via Zuma Press

Russian prison recruiters "grab anyone" 

“It's been a week of hiring inmates in the Tula region colony. More than 200 people have signed up. It's f***ed up! They grab anyone: the blind, the lame, the disabled, those who can barely move their legs and the elderly, who are long out of their minds – even those diagnosed with schizophrenia. And this even though in 2022 more than 200 convicts were already removed from the colony (this is the fourth wave)," sources tell Gulagu.net.

The fighters are likely to be ineffective – but brutal.

Similar stories have been reported from other regions of the country. In propaganda played on TV in Russian prisons, the war is described as a great opportunity for prisoners, recently released Yuli Boyarshinov reports: “Everything is great. (Russia is on) the offensive on all fronts; you can get a cool, interesting experience. Two hundred thousand a month. You must go. A few people are critical of this information, or say that this is not the whole truth. Maybe five percent of the convicts think about this information critically," says Boyarshinov, who had been imprisoned since 2018 on terrorism charges.

Ukrainian observers say that even if Russia’s new recruitment campaign is a success, the fighters are likely to be ineffective – but brutal.

“This embittered herd came to us. These militant groups are trying to ‘free’ us. Pathological ferocity is cultivated … in the Russian army, and the results of this education are seen on the battlefields, temporarily occupied territories, and everywhere. But once in captivity, the Russians find themselves in a completely incomprehensible environment, where they, the captives, are treated better than in their units," says Viktor Kevlyuk, an expert at the Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies.

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Every Step, Every Swipe: Inside China's System Of Total Surveillance Of Uyghurs

Research by anthropologist Darren Byler provides a rare look inside the surveillance state China has created to control the Uyghur population of Xinjiang province, where every move is tracked, people are forced to carry cell phones, and "re-education camps" await anyone suspected of trying to break free.

Photograph of an ethnic Uyghur man cooking Kebab in Kashgar bazaar.​

Kashgar, China: An ethnic Uyghur man cooking Kebab in Kashgar bazaar.

Geovien So/ZUMA
Huang Yi Ying

With the release of police files and internal documents from Xinjiang's re-education camps, as well as testimonies from exiles in Xinjiang, the world has been able to get a better grasp of the reality of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) control over the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and its human rights abuses.

Since the end of last year, a number of testimonies and publications have been revealed describing the experiences of people who have endured the re-education camps.

Research by anthropologist Darren Byler, assistant professor of international studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, provides an insightful, raw look at the experiences of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Byler is an internationally recognized researcher on Uyghur society and China's surveillance system, and has been active in advocating for Uyghur human rights as a witness to the re-education system and surveillance governance in Xinjiang.

Singapore-based media news outlet Initium Media interviewed Byler during a recent visit to Taiwan. He presents his insights on technological surveillance in Xinjiang and the lives of Uyghurs there, and emphasized that what has happened to the Uyghurs could happen to anyone.

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