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- Russia’s military is recruiting fighters for Ukraine directly from prisons, UK intelligence said.
- The method was previously used by the pro-Kremlin Wagner Group, but it lost access earlier this year.
- According to the UK MOD, Russia’s army recruited 10,000 prisoners in April alone.
Russia’s military is copying the method used by the pro-Kremlin Wagner mercenary group by recruiting convicts directly from prisons to fight in Ukraine, according to UK intelligence.
The UK Ministry of Defence said in an update on Thursday that since the start of the year, Russia’s defense ministry has “ramped up a scheme to recruit Russian prisoners to fight in Ukraine.”
It is likely that up to 10,000 convicts were signed up in April 2023 alone, it said.
Other investigations have also found Russia is recruiting prisoners to fight.
The MOD described the effort as part of a “broader, intense effort by the Russian military to bolster its numbers, while attempting to avoid implementing new mandatory mobilisation, which would be very unpopular with the Russian public.”
Getting prisoners to fight in Ukraine was a tactic widely used by the Wagner Group, a private mercenary force that has sent tens of thousands of prisoners to Ukraine.
The Wagner Group has been accused of war crimes both in Ukraine and in parts of Africa, where its troops are also fighting.
It is not clear exactly how many prisoners Wagner sent to Ukraine before it lost access to prisons earlier this year.
The US Department of Defense estimated in December that the group had around 40,000 prisoners deployed in Ukraine.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s chief, said in February that it had stopped recruiting in prisons. This came after reports that inmates no longer wanted to sign up, despite having the potential to earn full pardons after serving for only six months.
Experts and captured soldiers described Wagner using prisoners as little more than cannon fodder.
The UK MOD said Russia took away the group’s permission to recruit from prisons in February, amid an ongoing fued between Prigozhin and the military top brass.
The UK ministry also said the following month that around half of the prisoners recruited to fight in Ukraine had been killed or wounded.
Meanwhile, UK intelligence has outlined other ways that Russia is recruiting soldiers while carefully avoiding a general mobilization of Russian citizens that could spark anger in the country.
It said earlier this week that Russia’s military was trying to recruit Central Asian migrant workers, offering them payments and a fast-track to Russian citizenship if they sign up.
Tensions have also continue to grow between Wagner and Russia’s military leadership.
On Tuesday, Prigozhin released a video showing him shouting and swearing while standing in front of rows of corpses, accusing Kremlin officials of denying his men ammo.
And this week he threatened to pull out of Bakhmut, mocked Russian troops, and said he might reveal more information on the front-line situation.
He also publicly mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time, following Russia’s muted Victory Day parade.