Staunton, Nov. 12 – Last spring, Moscow announced plans to use draftees and even prisoners for construction on the BAM in the Russian Far East given Russia’s shortage of working-age men and the prohibitively high costs involved if free workers are employed instead (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/03/pandemic-crisis-demographic-shortfalls.html and tass.ru/obschestvo/11270473).
That would have involved at most a few thousand people, but now Russian officials say the government is considering using inmates as workers across the entire Russian North, a project that would potentially involve tens of thousands and that for many recalls Stalin’s use of GULAG inmates there (svpressa.ru/society/article/316613/).
According to senior Russian penal officials, participation in the program would be entirely voluntary, with prisoners offered the chance to shorten their sentences, escape the often draconian conditions of Russian prisons and camps, and earn more money if they agree to take part.
But independent experts surveyed by Sergey Aksyonov of Svobodnaya pressa are skeptical. They fear that if this program gets started, it won’t stay voluntary and that the Russian government will have even more incentives to incarcerate people so as to have a new cheap source of labor.
At the very least, these experts say, Moscow will be under enormous pressure to end its effort to cut the number of prisoners and thus of the charges it brings and the punishments its courts impose on an increasing number of Russians, extending the shadow of what looks like a new GULAG over the entire society just as the Stalinist original did.