Staunton, May 20 – After Moscow approved the use of prisoners for the rebuilding and expansion of the BAM railway, Aleksandr Kalashnikov, the head of the Federal Prison Service, has proposed extending that idea to the country as a whole with prisoners replacing immigrant workers.
He insists that “this will not be a GULAG,” but opponents fear that it will open the door to the kind of slave labor Stalin used in the 1930s and 1940s and more than that point out that any such program will produce a backlash for at least two reasons (ria.ru/20210520/migranty-1733064470.html and svpressa.ru/society/article/298991/).
On the one hand, there simply aren’t enough prisoners to replace all the immigrants. Moscow says approximately 188,000 of those behind bars would qualify for such a program. And on the other, while Russians may accept the use of such labor far from their cities, they are hardly likely to agree to the appearance of prisoners in their midst if only for security reasons.
Kalashnikov’s proposal has already triggered a debate in the Duma and among the expert community with some seeing it as a positive step or one that is at least consistent with the Putin regime’s approach to its labor force but others pointing to the certainty that it won’t be implemented lest it spark anger among the population.
The Kremlin for its part says the proposal merits study, thus suggesting that nothing is likely to be done in this regard in the short term, although more use of prison labor in places far from urban areas like with BAM is probably going to happen soon. (For background, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/04/moscow-thinking-about-using-prison.html.)