The demented prison-recruitment scheme top Russian military brass are using to find fresh cannon fodder for the war against Ukraine apparently isn’t going so well: 11 inmates are on the run in Donetsk while their fellow recruits have been tossed into basements for refusing to fight.
That’s according to the independent outlet Ostorozhno, Novosti, which released damning leaked audio on Tuesday that captures the unfolding chaos.
About 70 inmates are being held against their will in a basement in Donetsk after a conflict with their commanders went off the rails, one inmate told the outlet. He said he and 10 others had managed to flee during the mayhem, but now they’re terrified the military will track them down, execute them, and list them as missing so the circumstances of their deaths will be kept under wraps and their families will never receive compensation.
“If you refuse to go fight, people from Wagner will come and we’ll shoot you,” the inmate recalled being told.
Just before the prisoners’ escape, a man identified as a Russian Defense Ministry official was caught on tape trying to convince the group of angry inmates that they better follow orders.
A 10-minute clip shared by Ostorozhno, Novosti was reportedly surreptitiously recorded after the group of inmates recruited for the war effort refused to storm Ukrainian positions in the Donbas, and apparently began to catch wind of the fact that they were simply seen as an easily expendable resource to carry out human-wave style attacks.
“You were given a task yesterday, and you refused,” an unnamed representative of the Defense Ministry says as he scolds them. “I haven’t scared you with anything yet. Why would I need to scare you? I want to ask you, why didn’t you go carry out the task?”
“Those before you went through the exact same thing, there were 75 people–” the official says, before an inmate cuts him off and yells, “Of whom only 11 people remained? I was with them in the hospital!”
The inmates can be heard protesting that the contracts they were initially shown upon recruitment didn’t contain the same terms that they were now being told of.
At that, the military official references Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, and tries to entice the inmates into obeying.
“What is Yevgeny Viktorovich always saying everywhere? The only thing you have to do is once you get to the positions, you kill them. Everything the enemy has, we will allow you to take,” he says. “You can only take the spoils from those you kill.”
He tells them that the only way they can leave the war before their six-month term is up is if they are killed or severely injured.
Commanders “have the right to use weapons to install discipline” in their ranks, or use against inmates if they abandon their positions, he warns, prompting one of the inmates to audibly laugh.
“There’s no need to smile!” the official immediately shoots back.
Calling the inmates volunteers from a “special contingent,” the official can be heard telling them they can’t carry “even one document” with them.
“Just like you I have not a single document with me since the start of the ‘special military operation.’ Not even one document. If something happens to me, well, they’ll identify me with DNA,” he says.
“The situation here is this: the task has been assigned, you need to fulfill it. Trust me,” he says, informing the men that after their refusal to take part in assault teams, they will now be serving in the police force of Russia’s proxy republic in Donetsk “in accordance with orders from the president.”
Backfired: Putin’s Prison Recruits Spiral Out of Russia’s Control
The inmates, apparently unswayed, ask what happened to their commander, who one of them notes was “taken away somewhere.”
“What is actually happening?” the inmate asks.
After others piped up to argue that with no proper documents, they have no guarantees that the military isn’t simply tricking them, another inmate pleads, “At least give our families some kind of guarantees, even if we’re killed.”
The official appears unswayed, however, telling the men he’s leaving in five minutes and, “After I leave here, that’s it. After that, I will take this as a straight-out refusal, and I will report it as a straight-out refusal [ to follow orders.]”
One of the inmates from the group, who called his enlistment a “monstrous mistake,” told Ostorozhno, Novosti the military had tried to toss the inmates onto the battlefield with next to no training.
After they protested, he said, a military officer candidly told them all, “You’ve been screwed.”
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