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The Wagner Group’s ‘best practices’ go mainstream Following Prigozhin’s example, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has begun recruiting soldiers among Russia’s inmates

Source: Meduza
Anadolu Agency / ABACAPRESS / ddp images / Vida Press

The Russian Defense Ministry has begun to recruit new soldiers from among the inmates of Russia’s so-called “red” penal colonies. This is a class of penal institutions where some of the inmates are former law-enforcement and state-security servicemen. In “red” colonies, convicts are permitted to organize a good deal of their daily life, unlike the other “castes” of inmates in the Russian penal system. According to the media project Vazhnye Istorii (iStories), no later than the end of September, the Ministry of Defense began to recruit soldiers for a new formation called Storm among the people currently imprisoned in the “red” colonies. Military recruitment among convicts used to be something only done by Evgeny Prigozhin, the notorious founder of the Wagner Group — Prigozhin’s “private military company” that fought in Syria in 2015, and is now taking part in Russia’s war against Ukraine. But now the Defense Ministry, led by Sergey Shoigu, is taking Prigozhin’s lead — by trying to find new conscripts among the prisoners.

The journalists from Vazhnye Istorii have spoken with the family members of inmates who are currently serving their terms in two colonies. One of them is the Third (Skopin) colony in the Ryazan district. The other is the Fourth (Alexandriyskaya) colony in the Stavropol region. According to those sources, their incarcerated relatives were invited to join a new battalion called “Storm.” This took place no later than the end of September.

The sister of one man currently imprisoned at the Fourth colony heard from her brother that the ministry’s and the Wagner Group’s recruiters paid back-to-back visits to the colony, one on September 27, the other on September 28. As a result, the first men recruited to join Storm were taken from the colony on the night of October 11.

The father of another man, who is serving his sentence in the Third (Skopin) colony, also told the publication that representatives of the ministry visited the colony at the end of September, offering six-month contracts and bonuses. “Something to do with the Storm Division” is how the inmate’s father understood the situation. He says that the recruiters selected 60 people from the 100 who were interested. Those 60 then petitioned for clemency and signed non-disclosure agreements.

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On October 4, the human-rights project also reported that the Defense Ministry was recruiting among the incarcerated, citing a message sent to the organization’s hotline by an inmate at the Eleventh correctional facility in Nizhny Novgorod, where former law-enforcement employees serve their sentences. According to the source, Defense Ministry recruiters said that a formation called Storm was being created on the basis of the Southern Military District. They offered the same conditions as the Wagner Group — namely, pardon and money — but noted that “survival chances” would be better for those who join Storm. The prison administration then began to pressure inmates to sign up.

Vazhnye Istorii notes that at least two different formations called “Storm” are currently associated with the Russian Defense Ministry. The first is a battalion formed in July 2022 in the self-proclaimed Luhansk Republic (“LNR”). The second Storm is a unit of volunteers from North Ossetia, which has been fighting in Ukraine for the past four months.

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Translated by Anna Razumnaya

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