Russia has changed the rules allowing its prisoners to fight in Ukraine to beef up its army.
For several months, even people convicted of a violent crime who signed up to fight in the war were granted a pardon and freedom after six months on the battlefield.
Over the months, this attracted the criticism of regular soldiers and their families and made Russian President Vladimir Putin vulnerable to unwanted criticism as he was personally signing the pardons of former convicts, sometimes accused of crimes including murder and sexual assault.
Fighters part of Storm V, the battalion to which convicts are now being assigned, are currently fighting on the frontline, from Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine to Bakhmut in the eastern part of the war-torn country.
Posts on social media from Russians whose relatives are serving in this unit suggest the former prisoners are now asked to fight until the end of the “special military operation”, as the war continues to be called by the Kremlin.
These fighters can only leave the battlefield before the end of the conflict if they get a state decoration, become incapacitated or reach the maximum age limit.
Moreover, Storm V survivors aren’t going to be pardoned after their service, the investigation found.
Rather, they will get a conditional release, which means that if they are found guilty of committing a new crime their sentence will also reflect their previous convictions.
This change comes following several reports of civilians fearing the return home of former convicts freed after their service in Ukraine.
Russia started relying on prisoners to feed its war machine in the summer of 2022, when warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin was offering full pardon to convicts fighting on the battlefield as part of the mercenary Wagner Group for six months.
Prigozhin, a former close ally of Putin, claimed to have added almost 50,000 Russian prisoners to its force – which fought for months in Bakhmut.
As cracks started to appear in the relationship between Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash in August, and the Russian Ministry of Defence, the Kremlin took over his scheme and started enticing prisoners with the same deal.
This meant the former convicts were being offered by the Defence Ministry a much better deal than regular soldiers, with many of those mobilised in September 2022 being told they would have to continue to serve until the end of the war.