Russia turns to convicts to help fight war effort – POLITICO

Russian criminals could be freed from prison and have their convictions overturned in exchange for their service in Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine, under a new bill drafted by senators.

The bill would formally allow those convicted of certain categories of crimes to perform their military duty in exchange for early release, the overturning of their convictions or sentence reductions, said Olga Kovitidi, a senator representing illegally annexed Crimea, in a message on Telegram on Thursday. Kovitidi, along with his colleagues from the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building, was responsible for drafting the bill.

Kovitidi said the law would apply to those who had committed crimes of « small and medium gravity ». Those convicted of calling or participating in anti-government rallies, discrediting the Russian armed forces or calling for sanctions against Moscow would not be eligible, the senator said.

Russia has struggled to turn the tide of the war, with Kyiv launching a successful counter-offensive last month and retaking thousands of miles of Ukrainian territory held by Moscow troops. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced what he called a « partial mobilization » of reservists, which caused significant public outcry (by Russian standards).

Videos and reports have circulated of the Wagner Group, a mercenary ring and Putin’s de facto private army trying to convince prisoners to fight in the war, but new legislation paves the way for more open recruitment .

According to the Russian daily Vedomosti, there are reports of “thousands of prisoners with unserved sentences for various crimes, including serious ones”, sent to the front line.

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