Russia Ends Amnesty Program for Prisoner Soldiers

Written by Henrik Rothen

Feb.04 - 2024 7:13 PM CET

Photo: Shutterstock.com
Photo: Shutterstock.com
Russia Ends Amnesty Program for Prisoner Soldiers.

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Russia has concluded its controversial offer to prison inmates, promising freedom in exchange for six months of frontline service in Ukraine, a policy that saw many inmates earn their release by volunteering for combat roles.

Throughout the conflict, the private military company Wagner played a significant role in recruiting prisoners for the fight in Ukraine, promising them freedom if they survived the six-month stint. This arrangement came under scrutiny after Wagner's leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, led a rebellion against the Russian military leadership, which he labeled as incompetent, before settling in Belarus.

Following Prigozhin's departure and subsequent death in a plane crash, the Russian military continued the policy of offering amnesty to prisoners who fought in Ukraine and survived the six-month period. Prigozhin had claimed that 50,000 prisoners were sent to the front lines, with thousands killed in action, while many others were granted amnesty.

However, this special rule has now been discontinued, as reported by the BBC, amidst dissatisfaction from regular soldiers. The policy allowed criminals to don a uniform and leave the war after six months, a provision far more lenient than those for regular soldiers.

New, stricter regulations have been implemented, moving away from the previous practice. Investigations and interviews with soldiers and their families revealed that former prisoners are serving in units known as Storm Z, actively participating in various fronts in eastern Ukraine.

One woman shared that her husband was recruited to Storm Z in the fall of 2023, after serving 15 years of his sentence, with hopes of reducing his remaining time through military service. However, she noted that the contract with the defense ministry did not guarantee his freedom after six months, but rather, "the contract automatically gets extended."

BBC's findings indicate that prisoners can only return from the front if they are severely wounded, receive high honors, reach the maximum age for soldiers, or when the war ends. The previous practice of President Vladimir Putin personally signing amnesty papers for inmates who served six months has ceased, primarily due to negative publicity surrounding the release of murderers and sex offenders.

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