Staunton, Jan. 27 – Russian prisoners who agreed to fight in Ukraine say they are not getting the payments they were promised or having their criminal records expunged. Instead, they say in an open letter to Putin, they aren’t getting pardons but only “conditional release” from their sentences and are being forced to continue to fight far longer than they expected.
Olga Romanova, founder of the Russia in Jail Foundation, says the Kremlin took these steps because it was upset by headlines like “’Putin pardoned a cannibal.’ ‘Putin pardoned a murderer.’ ‘Putin pardoned a rapist’” and decided this couldn’t continue especially with in the runup to the election (currenttime.tv/a/zaklyuchennye-pomilovanie-uslovno-osvobozhdayut/32793564.html.
But Moscow still needs the services of those prisoners who have volunteered in exchange for its earlier promises and hopes to get more instead of seeing this potential source of cannon fodder disappear and so came up with “a rather elegant way” to address the headlines, Romanova continues.
The Kremlin “ushed through the Duma at the very end of the spring session” a law which allows for the conditional release of prisoners who have agreed to fight. An individual now goes into service by signing a contract for 18 months but that is now automatically released rather than representing the end of military responsibilities.
If someone doesn’t continue to serve, she says, that means that they won’t be pardoned, putting these prisoner volunteers before Hobson’s choice. But the new system has yet another wrinkle that works against such people: if someone is released and goes home only to commit new crimes, they can be sent back to the front.
At the same time, Romanova continues, Moscow is taking steps to create conditions in prisons to “’stimulate’” prisoners to sign such open-ended military contracts. Prisons are blocking food shipments from relatives, turning off the heating in the cells, taking away warm clothes and ending video contacts between prisoners and their relatives.
Given those conditions, volunteering for military service in Ukraine still looks good, even under the new and more repressive conditions, the prisoner rights activist says.