The head of a notorious Russian mercenary group has defended the idea of sending prisoners to fight in Ukraine’s war after a video was released showing him recruiting in a prison.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the notorious Wagner group, said that those who do not want to send convicts to fight should send their own children.
Earlier, leaked footage showed him telling prisoners they would be freed if they fought six months with his group. The Wagner group is believed to have been fighting in Ukraine since 2014.
In a statement posted on social media after the video was leaked, Mr Prigozhin said that if he was in prison he would “dream” of joining the Wagner group to “fulfill my debt to the Fatherland”.
He added a message to those who don’t want mercenaries or prisoners to fight that “either [θα πάνε] private military companies and prisoners, or your children – decide for yourself.”
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said the prisoner recruitment suggested Russia was suffering from a “critical” shortage of military infantry troops. The video – verified by the BBC – confirmed long-held suspicions that Russia hopes to boost troops by recruiting prisoners.
Russian law does not allow the release of prisoners in exchange for military or mercenary service, but Prigozhin said in the video that “no one goes back behind bars” if he serves with the Wagner group.
“If you serve six months, you’re free,” he said. But he warned potential recruits against desertion, adding: “If you get to Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we will execute you.”
The Kremlin denies that the invasion of Ukraine constitutes a war and does not proceed with military action, for legal reasons related to the law of war.