By Clark Gerhartsreiter Contributing Writer
For Russian incarcerated persons who thought that uni-formed visitors at their penal colony in St. Petersburg had come to inspect the facility, the visit turned out to be far more momentous. The visitors were seeking recruits to fight with the Russian army in Ukraine in exchange for amnesty, reported The Associated Press.
As of July, about 1,500 might have applied in Russia, estimated Vladimir Osechkin, founder of the prisoner rights group Gulagu.net. Many of the volunteers have contacted Osechkin to say, “I really don’t want to go.”
Attrition in the Russian army seems to run high as hundreds of Russian soldiers refuse to fight or intend to quit the military. Said Alexei Tabalov, a lawyer who runs the Conscript’s School’s legal-aid group, “I get the impression that everyone who can is ready to run away … and the Defense Ministry is digging deep to find those it can persuade to serve.”
Osechkin added that recruitment of incarcerated persons may be conducted by the Wag-ner Group, “a shadowy private military force.” Wagner manager and financier Yevgeny Prigozhin denied that he had personally visited prisons to recruit convicts.
The article said that the former Soviet Union employed “prisoner battalions” during World War II. Ukraine also offered amnesty to incarcerated veterans if they volunteered to fight, the article said, though it is unclear whether anything came of it.
In San Quentin, incarcerated people commented on a country offering amnesty to its incarcerated people in exchange for military service.
“If my country called on me to fight in a war, it would be an honor to serve again,” said Darryl Farris, a navy veteran and the only respondent willing to go on record.
The other nine San Quentin interviewees’ responses were conditional, based on the circumstances of their sentences. “If I had life or life-without-pa-role, I would go,” said one respondent, who asked for anonymity. Most other responses echoed the same sentiment.
One respondent who requested anonymity said that he thought incarcerated persons in Russia would enlist simply because they likely only knew the Russian side of the story of the war, including the promise of an easy victory. “Putin has effectively brainwashed them,” he added.
The PBS NewsHour reported Sept. 22 that the U.S. Dept. of Defense estimates Russian casualties in the conflict at about 80,000, much higher than the official Russian figure of less than 10,000.