‘Putin boss’ Yevgeny Prigozhin is on a prison tour for Wagner recruits to fight in Ukraine, reports say

A sanctioned Russian businessman and close ally of Putin linked to the notorious Wagner group is said to have personally visited Russian prisons and recruited inmates to join the fight in Ukraine.

That’s according to a new report published on Saturday by independent media outlet Mediazona, which interviewed two detainees held in different facilities in different regions of Russia. Numerous reports have emerged in recent weeks of Wagner’s alleged new recruiting campaign among detainees, with private Russian military force ostensibly trying to bolster Russian forces that have been depleted by heavy casualties in the nearly six-year war. month.

But this appears to be the first time that Yevgeny Prigozhin, commonly known as “Putin’s leader”, has personally appealed to the detainees.

“They are interested above all in murderers and thieves, they treat drug addicts with suspicion, the same with rapists. It is better, he says, that they are not ordinary killers, but pure calculators – you will enjoy yourself with us, he said. In general, he gave the impression of being a maniac,” an anonymous inmate told Mediazona.

The inmate went on to note that there appeared to be no compulsion to join, although ‘very many’ signed up, he said, estimating that at least 200 inmates eagerly accepted the offer. .

Inmates were reportedly offered a free pardon and a paycheck in return for their service, with the man identified as Prigozhin promising they only had a 15% chance of dying, a figure believed to be based on deployment “experimental” detainees earlier in July.

During an alleged visit by Prigozhin to a penal colony in Rybinsk, Yaroslavl region, on August 1, inmates were told that ‘World War III’ was underway and they had the opportunity to fight for their homeland, according to the account told by an inmate in Mediazona.

“My guys go to African countries and in two days they leave nothing alive there, and now they are also destroying enemies in Ukraine. Your decision to serve in the [private military company] is a pact with the devil. If you leave here with me, you’ll either be a free man again or you’ll die. You will have to kill enemies and follow orders from the leadership. Those who retreat will be shot on the spot,” a detainee quoted Prigozhin as saying.

Russian billionaire and businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of catering company Concord, in 2016.

Mikhail Svetlov

An inmate at a penal colony in Plavsk, Tula region, said Mediazona inmates received a visit from Prigozhin on July 25 during which he reportedly said, “I have special authority from the president, I don’t care, I need to win this fucking war at all costs.

After the visits, during which Prigozhin was reportedly accompanied by other Wagner representatives, the detainees were reportedly prevented from using telephones. And according to a friend of one of the Plavsk detainees, Wagner’s representatives said they would return for another visit in two or three months if they “run out” of detainees from the first wave of recruitment.

Several human rights groups have also reported on Wagner’s alleged recruitment campaign, including Rus Sidyashaya, who said detainees and their families spoke of overtures from Wagner, and Gulagu.net, an advocacy group of human rights which monitors the conditions of prisoners in Russian penal colonies.

Vladimir Osechkin, the founder of human rights group Gulagu.net, recently wrote on Facebook that a prisoner in a high-security facility spoke about Putin’s pal Prigozhin, who arrived by helicopter in late July and convinced about 150 prisoners joining the war.

The man identified by detainees as Prigozhin allegedly tried to contact them, noting that he himself had served time in prison, according to Mediazona.

So far, according to independent media outlet Verstka, which also covered Wagner’s alleged recruitment campaign closely, the mercenary group has recruited more than 1,000 inmates from 17 different penal colonies across Russia.

Long accused by Western officials and investigative journalists of funding Wagner, Prigozhin has denied having ties to the paramilitary force, a shadowy group that has left behind a long trail of war crimes allegations in Ukraine, Syria and in the Central African Republic.

In a statement to Verstka about Wagner’s alleged recruitment campaign for the war in Ukraine, the press service of Prigozhin’s company, Concord Management, reportedly returned a comment from the businessman in which he avoided directly responding. if he was recruiting inmates, but admitted that he had “been in [penal] colonies in the 80s.

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