Thousands of Russian convicts to return to civilian life after Wagner Group Ukraine service, MOD says
Thousands of Russian convicts who have fought for the Wagner Group are set to be released and pardoned, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has said.
In the latest defence update, the MOD said "Wagner prisoner recruitment peaked in autumn 2022", with their sentences being commuted after six months of service in Ukraine.
"Although approximately half of the prisoners recruited have likely been killed or wounded, evidence from Russia suggests the group is following through on its promise to free survivors," the MOD said.
The Wagner Group is a Russian mercenary force that has been supplying private troops to Ukraine, partly made up of convicts.
"The certificates issued to freed Wagner veterans claim to have been endorsed by the decree of President Putin.
"With Wagner now likely banned from recruiting more prisoners, this exodus will worsen its personnel problems.
"In addition, the sudden influx of often violent offenders with recent and often traumatic combat experience will likely present a significant challenge for Russia’s war-time society."
It comes at a time when relations between the Russian military and the Wagner Group are already strained.
Earlier this month, the MOD said recruited prisoners were less likely to be sent to fight in Ukraine due to tension between the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defence.
In a previous defence intelligence update, the MOD said: "Competition between factions in the Russian elite is likely to be partially responsible for the reduced supply of convicts."
The public feud was mentioned by the MOD after Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu visited the frontline in Ukraine.
The MOD said the visit came after Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, visited frontline troops, and added that Mr Shoigu's visit was "partially in response to recent footage of" Mr Prigozhin's visit.
"Wagner is in a high-profile dispute with the Russian Ministry of Defence and Shoigu is likely sensitive to being compared to Prigozhin," the update said.
More recently, the Wagner Group made small advances in eastern Ukraine, but nothing to significantly advance Russian progress.