The war in the Ukraine has been one of the dominant news stories of 2022. At the time of the invasion in February 2022, Russia, a supposed military superpower, was expected to crush the much smaller Ukrainian military and swallow up the country in a matter of days. Cannibalise it, one might say.
However, the reality, after months of fighting, was that Russia did not achieve a quick victory, and might not even keep the territory it has taken. In the meantime, both sides have suffered significant losses of fighters, equipment and infrastructure. The Ukrainians estimated in mid-September that over 50,000 Russian soldiers have been killed so far.
The news this month (September 2022) is that Russia has mobilised around 300,000 “reservists” – civilians who have completed their mandatory military service, but will now be dragged back into uniform. There are two million reservists in Russia, so this is only a partial mobilisation, but it shows a level of desperation in Putin’s war machine.
But it turns out that Russia has been boosting the number of soldiers for some time, by recruiting within its worst maximum-security prisons.
A mercenary army called The Wagner Group deployed to the Ukraine back in 2014 to help pro-Russian separatists fight Ukrainian forces. British military intelligence reports that there are 1,000 mercenaries fighting there. The group has also been active in Syria and Africa, and has repeatedly been accused of war crimes and human rights abuses. They are now fighting alongside Russian regular troops in the Donbas region.
A BBC investigation identified Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” – so-called because he rose from being a restaurateur and caterer for the Kremlin – as a key figure in the Wagner Group. Many of Mr Prigozhin’s companies are currently under US sanctions for what it calls his “malign political and economic influence around the globe”. He has denied any connection with the Wagner Group.
Now a leading expert in Russia’s prison system, Olga Romanova, in the media group “Vazhnye istorii” (Важные истории or Important Stories) has reported that prisoners from the jails around St. Petersburg are being recruited to go to war in Ukraine as part of the “Wagner” army. Romanova states that Prigozhin has been visiting Russian prison camps in order to enlist convicted criminals to fight in Ukraine, according to accounts from military analysts and videos that have emerged on Telegram from Russian prisons. Romanova told The Daily Beast website:
“Putin’s plan is to recruit at least 50,000 convicts and Prigozhin, who is an ex-convict himself, has already sent more than 3,000 [including] serial murderers, robbers and at least one cannibal.”
Relatives of the prisoners report that the inmates are being promised that if the “volunteer” dies, they will pay the family 5 million roubles. If they live for six months of “service”, they will receive a payment of 200,000 roubles and a full pardon. A chilling thought for the victims (and their relatives) of the crimes which caused them to be in the prison camps!
“In 1/2 a year you go home with a pardon… there’s no way you end up back in prison. Those who arrive on the first day and don’t like where they’ve ended up are considered deserters and get shot.”
In Ukraine, Prigozin’s army is often referred to as an “army of orcs and goblins,” a reference to Lord of the Rings. “They take everyone, no matter what they are in prison for,” said Romanova in a video on the “Popular Politics” YouTube channel, as translated by The New Voice of Ukraine.
“They took a maniac who, so to speak, has cannibalism in his portfolio. He was also sent to war.”
Now authoritative sources (Twitter) tells us that the cannibal who has been recruited by the Wagner Group for the war in Ukraine is none other than Yegor Komarov, about whom this blog reported in December 2021. Komarov had been arrested in the town of Sortavala (near the Finnish border) after running from his crashed car, from the boot of which had tumbled a headless corpse. Komarov admitted to being a cannibal and stated that he ‘likes killing people’. He confessed to stabbing and killing another man in a park in St Petersburg the previous year for the sole purpose of tasting human flesh, and said he had sliced off the tongue and fried it in butter.
He sounds like a perfect guest at a dinner party for Putin, catered of course by Prigozhin, “Putin’s chef”.