The Daily Telegraph
Russia threatens to execute prison recruits
‘No desertions or surrender – troops will be issued two hand grenades to blow themselves up if needed’
‘Only two people can get you out of here, God and Allah, and they’ll do it in a wooden coffin. I can get you out alive’
THE man dubbed “Putin’s chef ” and the founder of the fearsome Wagner Group has told prisoners they will be executed if they flee while fighting in Ukraine during a recruitment speech, footage shows.
A secretly filmed video has emerged online appearing to show Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch and the Wagner manager and financier, recruiting inmates to take up arms in Ukraine alongside mercenaries.
“Wagner is expending 2.5 times the ammunition fired in Stalingrad,” Mr Prigozhin is heard telling the hundreds of recruits in black uniform, reportedly at a penal colony somewhere in Mordovia, a federal subject of Russia. Prigozhin reveals that prisoners have already been fighting on the front lines with Wagner, a shadowy private militia group. “In the first attack in Ukraine using 40 prisoners, three died and seven were injured,” he said.
He informs them of Wagner’s rules: “No alcohol, and no sex with local women. No desertions or surrender – troops will be issued two hand grenades to blow themselves up if needed.”
Those who join must be between 22 and 50 years of age, although maybe older “if fit”.
“Only two other people can get you out of here, God and Allah, and they’ll do it in a wooden coffin. I can get you out alive,” Mr Prigozhin says by way of a pitch. Nobody goes back behind bars,” he continues. “If you serve six months (in Wagner), you are free. If you arrive in Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we will execute you.”
Russian law does not allow commuting prison sentences for mercenary service in Ukraine, though it is unclear if exceptions can be made in times of war.
That Moscow is now having to draw from the prison population reveals the level of desperation in Russian ranks.
The British Ministry of Defence has assessed that Moscow has used the Wagner Group – dubbed one of the world’s most dangerous mercenary groups – to “reinforce front-line forces” in Ukraine and to fill gaps created by heavy Russian casualties.
The number of Russian casualties after six months of war has not been made public, and assessments vary, from US estimates of 70,000 to 80,000 total to Ukrainian estimates of 50,000 killed and many tens of thousands more wounded or missing.
Mr Prigozhin earned the moniker of “Putin’s chef ” because of his catering contracts with the Kremlin. He was granted the title Hero of the Russian Federation for Wagner’s growing role in the war.
The US, EU, and UK have imposed sanctions on Mr Prigozhin, which are intended to target his network of “malign influence in Africa.”
Although Russian officials refuse to accept links to the Wagner Group, the Russian government has used the private militia and other Prigozhin-owned entities as proxies to disperse disinformation and carry out covert, armed operations abroad, including in Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine.
Extensive Russian casualties and Moscow’s inability to regenerate its forces have sapped its military’s ability to conduct large-scale offensive operations. Those factors have made Wagner Group and its mercenaries a more appealing option to the Kremlin.
However, like Russia’s regular military, Wagner Group has been forced to lower its standards in order to replenish its ranks and is now drawing from unconventional sources.