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- The Kremlin admitted on Friday that Putin is giving pardons to convicts who fight in Ukraine.
- Murderers and hit men have signed up, and would be released after fighting for just six months.
- Wagner Group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was seen congratulating one newly-freed batch in January.
The Kremlin has finally admitted that President Vladimir Putin is pardoning Russian convicts who agree to fight for a notorious mercenary army in Ukraine.
This comes after months of battlefield setbacks and as the country relies more and more on mercenary fighters.
Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that the pardoning procedure is carried out according to Russian law, reported state-owned news agency TASS.
According to multiple accounts, prisoners at Russian penal colonies have been told they will be pardoned after six months of fighting for the Wagner Group in Ukraine.
The Wagner Group is a private army run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, and notorious for its brutality.
Some of the sentences being commuted are serious. According to a recent Reuters investigation into convicts who did not survive their deployment, recruits have ranged from a contract killer serving a 16-year sentence to a murderer who slashed a woman’s throat in a drunken argument. Others, it said, were petty thieves and robbers.
Under Russian law, only the president has the authority to issue pardons, but until Peskov’s statement the Kremlin had been silent on how the Wagner Group was securing pardons for its recruits.
Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin addresses former convicts released after serving in Ukraine, according to Russian state-controlled media.
The news comes a day after the US Treasury Department designated the group a transnational criminal organization. It’s attached to numerous reports of human rights violations in conflicts around the world.
In September 2022, video emerged that appeared to show Prigozhin personally recruiting convicts from a Russian penal colony, promising them freedom in exchange for fighting.
He also issued a threat: “If you arrive in Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we execute you,” he said, according to The Financial Times.
In a video that circulated in early January, Prigozhin can be seen congratulating what he said was the first group of convicts to be pardoned after fighting in Ukraine.
He advised them to “behave yourselves” and not “rape broads” now they were free.