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Wagner mercenary group founder Evgeny Prigozhin makes recruitment trip to prison housing opposition politician Alexey Navalny

Evgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner private military company (PMC), visited the high-security penal colony in Russia’s Vladimir region where opposition politician Alexey Navalny is serving a nine-year prison sentence. The purpose of Prigozhin’s trip, according to Navalny, was to recruit prisoners to serve as mercenaries in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

“[Prigozhin] arrived on a helicopter and gathered all of the convicts in a stadium along with the [prison] authorities. Prigozhin is short and bald. He said, ‘I did 10 years [in prison] myself, and [now] I’m calling on you to become my stormtroopers. In six months, I’ll write each of you a pardon. You have five minutes to think about it,’” Navalny wrote in a letter to his associates, who published the account on Instagram.

According to Navalny, between 80 and 90 inmates took Prigozhin’s first offer, after which there was a “second wave of recruitment.” Navalny didn’t say how many agreed to go to war in total.

Navalny added that “many generations” of Russian inmates will now know that their country effectively has no laws, courts, or rules, since murderers and robbers sentenced to long prison terms “can be freed with a snap of the fingers not of Putin, not of a judge, but of a bald little man who travels to prisons with a story about [serving] 10 years."

According to estimates by Russia Behind Bars founder Olga Romanova, as of the end of October, the number of prisoners who had been recruited by the Wagner Group exceeded 20,000, while by mid-November, the total number exceeded 30,000.

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