Russian parliament is expected to back army recruitment of criminals for Ukraine war

  • Russia’s parliament will likely give the green light to allow suspected or convicted criminals to fight in Ukraine.
  • Those convicted of sexual crimes, treason, terrorism or extremism would not be eligible.
  • The Wagner group stopped its convict recruitment drive.

Russia’s lower house of parliament is expected to give its initial backing in a vote later on Wednesday to legislation that would allow the Defence Ministry to sign contracts with suspected or convicted criminals to fight in Ukraine.

More than 15 months into what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, Moscow – whose forces have suffered heavy losses – is trying to recruit more soldiers for what is Europe’s largest land war since World War II.

Under the proposed changes, a contract could be concluded with someone being investigated for committing a crime, who is having their case heard in court or after they have been convicted but before the verdict takes legal effect, according to the database of the State Duma, the lower house.

People convicted of sexual crimes, treason, terrorism or extremism would not be able to sign up.

Those who do sign up would be exempt from criminal liability upon completion of their contract or if they receive awards for their combat prowess.

READ | Top Russian officer, Major-General Sergei Goryachev, reported killed in Ukraine counteroffensive

The Wagner mercenary group was previously allowed to recruit convicts from prisons to fight in Ukraine but said in February it had stopped. Prison rights activists say the Defence Ministry has taken over the process but wanted to make changes.

The new changes being examined by the Duma do not cover recruitment of people already serving their sentences and the Defence Ministry has not commented.

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