Old habits Former prisoners who joined Wagner Group in exchange for amnesty are committing new crimes back in Russia — and getting off lightly
Former Russian inmates who received amnesty in exchange for fighting with Wagner Group in Ukraine have started committing new crimes back at home, according to the independent Russian news site Verstka. Journalists from the outlet examined public records to learn what new criminal cases have been opened against the ex-convicts in recent months. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities are doing their best to remove the offenders’ new charges from public records. On top of that, the fact that they received amnesty means the maximum sentences these Wagner veterans can receive are lighter than the ones repeat offenders would ordinarily get. Meduza summarizes Verstka’s findings.
On June 13, Vladimir Putin met with military bloggers at the Kremlin. One of the topics of discussion was the amnesty granted to former prisoners who served in Wagner Group and who have continued to break the law after returning home from Ukraine. Putin stated the men should be held accountable “to the fullest extent of the law, no matter what happens,” adding that the recidivism rate among veterans who fought in Ukraine is only 0.4 percent. Later, Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said that 32,000 former prisoners have returned home after serving out contracts with Wagner Group, and that only 0.25 percent of them have gone on to commit new crimes.
There’s no reliable data on how often ex-convicts returning from Ukraine go on to break the law again, but court records suggest it’s becoming more and more common.
In the spring of 2023, multiple pardoned Wagner Group fighters who returned to Russia after fighting in Ukraine were charged with murder and pedophilia. In March, for example, according to investigators, 28-year-old Ivan Rossomakhin murdered an 85-year-old woman in the Kirov region. In April, 31-year-old Demyan Kevorkyan allegedly killed two children’s mascot performers in the Krasnodar region. If the war in Ukraine weren’t going on, both men would still be serving sentences in prison: Demyan Kevorkyan was sentenced to 18 years in 2016 for robbery and murder, and Rossomarkhin was sentenced to 14 years for similar offenses in 2020.
Another crime linked to a pardoned Wagner Group fighter occurred in Novosibirsk, where a 42-year-old man was charged with sexually abusing two children in May. His full name was not disclosed in public records.
All three of the defendants were arrested. The authorities have not released any information about their cases since their arrests.
Causing the overdose of a minor
On April 28, Russian media reported on the death of a 16-year-old girl from the town of Safonovo. According to the reports, the girl died as the result of a drug overdose, and a 24-year-old man was charged with providing her the substance that caused it. The outlet Readovka67.ru, citing its own sources, wrote that the suspect served in Wagner Group and participated in the “special military operation.”
Verstka determined that a district court initially ordered for the man to be put on house arrest, but the Smolensk Regional Court canceled the ruling and ordered a review of the case. The suspect is facing 15 years in prison for causing the death of a minor by inciting her to use drugs, though his relatives deny that he’s guilty.
According to court files, the suspect in the case is a man named Konstantin Zaikin from Yartsevo, a town in the Smolensk region. He has been convicted of drug-related offenses three times before and has sought addiction treatment for himself. Before receiving amnesty for his Wagner Group service, he was supposed to remain in prison until 2026. Instead, he was pardoned in August 2022.
According to court records, on March 30, a pardoned former Wagner Group fighter named Mikhail Shilayev was arrested for two months in the city of Michurinsk on charges of large-scale theft. Shilayev failed to appear at a hearing for his case on June 27 for unknown reasons, and there is no official information about the details of his alleged offense in local media or on official databases.
Another veteran of the war in Ukraine stole 595,000 rubles ($6,589) in the Voronezh region. His name is unknown, but according to court records, he was previously pardoned by the Russian president.
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Armed disorderly conduct
A court in Russia’s Tambov region upheld the arrest of a suspect for allegedly committing “armed disorderly conduct,” which is punishable by up to seven years in prison. The ruling states that the suspect was previously pardoned by presidential decree, but instead of a name gives only the person’s initials. According to records from a lower court in the region, the suspect is a man named Nikolai Seryogin who attacked a convenience store employee with a metal pipe.
Other court files indicate that Seryogin was previously convicted at least three times for theft and driving under the influence. In September 2019, he was sentenced to four years in prison. In 2022, he went to Ukraine.
Grievous bodily harm
In May, the Karelia region’s Supreme Court refused to put Yury Teterin, who had previously been pardoned by presidential decree, under house arrest. According to records from a district court in the region, Teterin has been under arrest since April on charges of causing grievous bodily harm as part of a group. He faces up to 12 years in prison.
No information about the crime has appeared in local media or on the websites of the Karelia police, the regional investigative committee, or the regional prosecutor’s office.
According to public court records, Teterin was sentenced to a total of 11 years in prison in December 2021 for committing theft on multiple occasions.
Before that, Teterin had been convicted six times, including for car theft, violence against an official, and breaking and entering. In the spring of 2021, he was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm that led to death after he beat a drinking companion to death.
While many veterans of the war against Ukraine have lengthy criminal records, they can count on lenient treatment from the Russian justice system. Putin’s demand that former fighters be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law” is no longer possible: when Russians are pardoned, their former convictions are wiped from their records, which means their past offenses can no longer serve as aggravating circumstances that allow for lengthier sentences.