Special Report: Wagner's Prison Recruits Accused Of 19 Murders Since Returning From War
An investigation by the Russian publication Agents Media finds that a number of Russian criminals who were granted amnesty in exchange for fighting in Ukraine have returned home and have been implicated in violent crimes — including more than a dozen murders.
Updated Oct. 6, 2023 at 6 p.m.
Russian military and paramilitary personnel who have returned from the front line in Ukraine have been implicated in a series of violent crimes, in which 27 people have been killed.
According to an investigation by the Russian independent news site Agentsvo Media, these incidents involve at least 20 separate criminal cases, with former members of the Wagner mercenary militia being accused in the majority of these incidents.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the late founder of Wagner, stunned many last year inside Russia by confirming that he was recruiting from the nation's prisons to have convicted criminals join his troops in Ukraine. Part of the offer to prisoners: in exchange for fighting in the war, you will earn permanent freedom.
Fears of that amnesty backfiring across Russian society are now proving a reality, with this exclusive tally of violent crimes committed in just a few months after the convicts' return from the front in Ukraine.
At least 19 murders linked to Russian veterans
Out of the 20 crimes under investigation, 12 have been directly linked to former Wagner fighters, totaling 19 murders, with one case already resulting in a guilty verdict.
The recent spate of violence is particularly alarming, with two murders occurring within the first three days of October.
On Oct. 3, Denis Stepanov, a former Wagner member, was suspected of setting fire to a house in the Krasnoyarsk region, resulting in the death of two women. Just two days earlier, in Lipetsk, another former Wagner fighter allegedly killed his wife and four-year-old daughter.
At the end of September, in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Oleg, a former Wagnerite, was believed to have doused his sister with gasoline and set her on fire. In the middle of the same month, another ex-Wagner fighter, Sergei K., brutally beat a colleague with a stone due to an unpaid debt. Additionally, Chita resident Tsyren-Dorzhi Tsyrenzhapov, returning from the war, also became a suspect in a murder case during the same period.
Now they are free, and they want to eat.
August also saw a spate of violent crimes, culminating in a case where former Wagnerite Igor Sofonov and an associate were implicated in the murder of six individuals. To cover their tracks, they allegedly set fire to two houses. The disturbing pattern of violence extends back through the summer months. In July and June, two volunteers returning from the war faced accusations of murder. The trend began with three suspected murders in May, five in April, and two in March.
Prigozhin and some of his Wagner troops near the front line
Warning signs ignored
Warnings about the consequences of the recruiting policy first began in November, 2022, when Grish Moskovsky, a Russian mob boss, said that convicts recruited by the Wagner Group for the war in Ukraine would eventually wreak havoc in society.
"Believe me; imagine who the Wagners are. All former convicts who were 20, 15, 18, 19 years old, who are behind bars for rape, for the spread of murder, and for all kinds of violence," the mob boss said in a video appeal. "And now they are free, and they want to eat. They want to earn money and want to feel good. And who will they go to? They will go to you, the common Russians."
In January, the first groups of Wagner recruits returned from the front and were granted a full pardon. At the time, Prigozhin had said the ex-convicts "should be treated with the deepest respect … They are absolutely fully-fledged members of society."
- Russia Passes New Law To Allow Military To Recruit Prisoners For The War ›
- Wagner Boss: First Group Of Russian Prisoners Recruited For War Are Now Free ›