In the past, women and human rights activists had expressed concern that the war would pardon so many criminals, including murderers and other violent criminals, and release them back into Russian society prematurely. Some of the convicted criminals had already committed new murders.
The Wagner boss, on the other hand, sees military service as a major rehabilitation program. In a voice message published on his Telegram channel, Prigozhin claimed that those released subsequently committed only 83 crimes in total. That is 80 times fewer crimes than those who were released after serving their sentence.
Historian sees “unchecked continuation of the disintegration of Russian society”
Matthäus Wehowski, historian at the Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism in Dresden, warns of the “unchecked continuation of the disintegration of Russian society” because of this approach. Instead, “the prisons are now needed for people who work against war and for democracy. Murderers and rapists get away with it,” he writes Twitter.
“Murderers, rapists, violent criminals and neo-Nazis” would now return to civilian life “resocialized” through brutalization in the aggressive war.” Instead, the war veterans would now be given a “special status” that “protects them against ‘discrimination’ – charges of assault and rape become difficult in practice. Psychological treatment does not exist.”
Ex-convicts have to fight for pardon for at least six months
Prigozhin, who is a close confidant of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin chief, recruited some of the prisoners himself in the penal camps. Putin pardoned those who then signed a contract for military service. The condition was to complete at least six months of combat missions in Ukraine.
In March, Prigozhin put the number of released ex-prisoners from the Wagner ranks at 5,000. After capturing the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, he announced that he had lost 20,000 men in the fighting there, 10,000 of them ex-prisoners alone. In many cases he had worked to ensure that the criminals received military burials.
Human rights activists complain that Russia continues to recruit criminals in prisons for military service on a massive scale. Accordingly, the Ministry of Defense in particular now uses the penal system to recruit fighters.