Putin’s ‘chef’ offered violent criminals and sex offenders locked up in Russia’s former Gulag prison region a pardon if they survive fighting in Ukraine for six months.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, 61, told prisoners they should take their own lives instead of being captured in Ukraine, holding one grenade for the enemy and one for themselves.
Video shows Prigozhin telling the criminals they can become war heroes or be shot as deserters, as the Kremlin steps up recruitment of inmates after suffering a humiliating defeat against Ukraine’s army in the east.
‘This is a hard war, not even close to the likes of [Chechnya] and the others,’ he was videoed telling them.
‘My ammo consumption is two-and-a-half-times higher than in the battle of Stalingrad,’ where there were almost two million casualties, he said.
The sales pitch to hundreds of inmates under grey skies at a high security penal colony in Mordovia, a former Gulag prison camp region, comes personally from Prigozhin, nicknamed Vladimir Putin’s ‘chef’, who was recently made a Hero of Russia for his loyalty.
Murderers, sex offenders and burglars are offered instant freedom and a pardon from Putin if they survive six months at the frontline in the bloody war.
Those who die will be buried ‘as heroes’, he tells them.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, 61, told the inmates they will be pardoned if they survive six months in the war against Ukraine. They should take their own lives instead of being taken prisoner, he said
The Wagner chief gave the inmates five minutes to decide if they wanted to join Russia’s war in Ukraine. The minimum age is 22, and the maximum is 50, with a six-month commitment
Those who face capture by Ukraine are ordered to use grenades to kill themselves rather than fall into enemy hands.
Convict soldiers who desert are told they will be instantly executed with a bullet to the head.
A secretly filmed video shows Prigozhin, 61, admit that he represents the Wagner private army, deployed by Putin in Ukraine.
He has previously denied a link to Wagner which is known to have already recruited thousands of inmates as Russia deploys its most dangerous prisoners as fighters.
‘I am a representative of a private war company, perhaps you heard the name – Wagner Group,’ he tells the assembled prison inmates.
He warns the convicts: ‘The first sin is deserting. No-one deserts, no-one gives up, no-one surrenders. You’ll be taught what to do regarding surrender.’
They should take their own lives, and not be taken prisoner, he said.
‘Two grenades which you must have on you,’ he went on [One grenade for our foes, and one for yourself].
‘The second sin is alcohol and drugs in the war zone [which are banned]… The third sin is marauding – this includes sexual contacts with local women, men, flora, fauna, anyone.
Putin’s chef Yevgeny Prigozhin (marked) pictured with other Wagner Group fighters at LNR at the beginning of August 2022
Putin’s chef Yevgeny Prigozhin (right) pictured at the grave of one of Russian jail inmates, killed in Ukraine
‘The minimum age we take is 22, the maximum is 50, and ‘good physical shape’ is a must.’
Multi-millionaire Prigozhin — who graduated as a trusted Putin fixer after being his chef at Kremlin banquets — also runs so-called troll factories splurging out propaganda inside Russia and abroad.
He boasts that in June the first 40 inmates he sent to Putin’s war from a St Petersburg jail had ‘stormed the enemy trenches, [and] killed them with knives’.
Three convict fighters died, and seven wounded, he says.
‘One of ours who was killed was 52. He had served 30 years in jail, and died a hero.’
Prigozhin admits to sending sex and drugs offenders to the war if they pass tests.
‘We take great care about those jailed for sex offences [but] we understand people make mistakes,’ he says
Inmates would be turned into assault troops.
‘Sixty percent of my men are assault soldiers, and you will become one of them,’ he promises the convicts.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, (right) linked to Wagner private military company used to bolster the Russian army in Ukraine, is pictured with Vladimir Putin
‘You’ll be treated the same, sometimes with even more loyalty than those who fought with my troops for many years, and went through dozens of wars…
‘I have several types of aircraft in Wagner, I have MLRS [multiple launch rocket systems].
‘I have tanks, I have everything necessary to attack effectively. Those who go in the front, they are the strongest and they survive better.
‘Those who retreat and don’t understand what to do, they get into trouble… All who are killed will be delivered to the place you nominate in your will, to relatives or get buried wherever you indicate.’
If possible, slain prisoner fighters will be buried in Alleys of [Fallen] Heroes which have appeared in many Russian cities as the appalling toll of the war has grown.
But those who fled or expressed doubts would be shot dead, he warns.
‘Those who don’t know where to be buried, we bury by the Wagner Group’s church,’ he said. ‘[If you survive] six months, you go home after being pardoned…
‘There is no option that you will go back to jail. Those who come to us, and say on the first day “this place doesn’t feel right”, are marked as deserters, which is followed by execution by shooting.’
He told the inmates they had ‘five minutes to decide’.
‘I am taking you out alive. But I don’t always give you back alive…’ he said, adding: ‘Those who want to go with us, go.’
Pro-war and Kremlin-loyal news outlets confirmed that it was Prigozhin in the video.