By Paul Goble
In yet another sign that Russian combat losses are far higher than officials are willing to admit, representatives of the Vagner Private Military Company, a quasi-state force close to the Kremlin, are now recruiting volunteers from among prisoners in Russia’s penal institutions.
They are promising prisoners 200,000 rubles (3,000 US dollars) for six months service and cancellation of the remainder of their sentences; and they are told that their families will receive a payment of five million rubles (70,000 US dollars) in the event of their deaths, an outcome they are warned is entirely possible (svoboda.org/a/kogo-otpravyat-umiratj-v-donbass-sleduyuschim-grani-vremeni-s-muminom-shakirovym-efir-v-19-05/31935918.html,istories.media/reportages/2022/07/04/chvk-vagner-verbuet-zaklyuchennikh-kolonii-peterburga-dlya-poezdki-na-donbass-idti-v-avangarde-pomogat-obnaruzhivat-natsistov/ and t.me/NetGulagu/2927).
In reporting this development, Moscow historian Boris Sokolov notes that what Putin is doing now represents a revival of a policy Stalin used during World War II. More than 975,000 prisoners and approximately a million special settlers were sent to the front, forming approximately five percent of the Red Army (graniru.org/opinion/sokolov/m.285481.html).
No data are public available as to how many of these former prisoners and special settlers died, but the percentage almost certainly was higher than the 60 percent of all Soviet citizens in uniform who did given that such people were often used as cannon fodder during that conflict to and put in harms way more often to spare other units.
One group that was not recruited by Stalin were political prisoners. They were not allowed to escape their time in the camps by fighting in the front lines. That too is likely to be a tradition that even an increasingly hard-pressed Vladimir Putin is unlikely to violate in the future.
Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .