Murderers and rapists freed by Vladimir Putin in exchange for serving in Ukraine are now wreaking havoc as they return to Russia, an expert has said.
Emily Ferris, a Research Fellow in the International Security Studies department at UK think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), also warned the Russian mindset was such that its people were willing to accept massive casualties as a consequence of Putin’s war – resulting in what she called the “meat grinder” narrative.
Ms Ferris was speaking after reports indicated the Russian army was recruiting from jails across the country, following the example of the private military company the Wagner Group last year.
Despite a lack of official confirmation, there is multiple evidence to suggest convicts are being sent to a unit known as Storm-Z, the Z being a reference to Putin’s so-called special operation, the BBC reported.
One former prisoner speaking to US-funded website Sever Realii said little regard was given to the safety of the men in the outfit, which he described as “a total meat grinder”.
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Ms Ferris, who specialises in Russian domestic politics, said: “One of the serious problems Russia is having is that its reliance on convicts has had negative social implications back in Russia.
“Once discharged from frontline duty they are, as according to their contracts, released from prison and their sentences are considered served, even if they’re serving time for serious crimes like murder.
“There have been a lot of alarming reports coming out of Siberian towns and villages particularly where recently demobilised men have been returning to villages and are engaging in the same crimes that they were convicted of, mainly theft, murder or sexual assault.”
There was not enough “psychological evaluation” of these people to determine whether they were fit to be released back into society, Ms Ferris pointed out.
Neither was there adequate social help available to combat issues such as PTSD sustained on the battlefield, all of which makes it very difficult for them to reintegrate anyway.
Assessing the implications of Putin’s decision to continue recruiting from prisons, Ms Ferris continued: “There is I suppose the broader Russian military approach to mass casualties.”
Referring to a comment piece which she and her colleague Dr Sarah Ashbridge had written for RUSI’s website, she continued: “Essentially this is explaining why the ‘meat grinder’ analogy has been a part of how Russia does warfare for centuries, and how this has permeated down to society.
“Although that’s not to say people are completely fine with it, the mindset in a lot of Russians is that people are being killed in service of a greater cause, and that they have to accept a great deal of sacrifice to win the war.
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“This, and because the Russian Ministry of Defence doesn’t release accurate figures of those killed in battle, is why you don’t see a huge amount of protests from regular people about military deaths.”
Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin spearheaded a brief rebellion against the Russian military establishment in the summer.
After Prigozhin’s subsequent death in a plane crash exactly two months later, Putin signed a decree ordering Wagner Group fighters to swear an “oath of allegiance” to the Russian state.
Russia has now named a replacement for the former head of the country’s Aerospace Forces, who was dismissed in the wake of the apparent mutiny, according to information on the Defence Ministry website.
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The website on Friday showed Colonel General Viktor Afzalov, who reportedly had been acting head of the air force since mid-August, was given the full post. He replaces General Sergei Surovikin.
The ministry’s intent to make the appointment was reported last week by state news agencies.
Surovikin was believed to have had close ties with Prigozhin, who accused both Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and military chief of staff Valery Gerasimov undermining Wagner forces who were key fighters in eastern Ukraine.
After the uprising disintegrated, Surovikin was not seen in public for months. Reports of his dismissal came one day before Prigozhin and several top lieutenants died in the private plane crash, regarded by many as an assassination by Putin operatives.
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