The Kremlin has acknowledged that Russian President Vladimir Putin is pardoning convicts to allow them to fight in Ukraine as members of the Wagner paramilitary group.
Russia also rejected a US Treasury move to name Yevgeny Prigozhin’s group, which plays an increasingly prominent role on the front lines as Putin’s full-scale invasion enters its 12th month, “Transnational criminal organization”.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Friday that the prisoner pardons were “in strict compliance with Russian law,” and praised an armed robber she had recruited. Wagner For “heroism” on the battlefield after the President awarded him a medal.
After nearly a decade of keeping the mercenary operation’s activities in secrecy, with its founder Prigozhin claiming it did not exist, the Kremlin has embraced Wagner as a staple in its faltering effort to defeat Ukraine and rallying support for the war among an anxious population.
Although Russia initially denied that the group was fighting in Ukraine, the poor performance of the Russian regular army and widespread discontent with the campaign among the Russian elite allowed the former caterer, dubbed “Putin’s chef” and himself an ex-convict, to establish a role as The leader of a militant pro-war factionand earned Wagner commendations on state television for her recent battlefield exploits.
Russia’s constitution gives Putin sole power to pardon prisoners, although “there are open decrees and there are decisions marked secret,” Peskov said, declining to comment further.
On New Year’s Eve, Putin awarded Aik Gasparyan, who was serving a seven-year prison sentence for armed robbery in 2019, with a medal for “Courage”. Peskov said that Gasparyan “takes part in the military special operation, showed heroism, which was rewarded with state honors.”
Peskov shrugged off Washington’s recent move to limit Wagner’s international reach in response to widely documented reports of the group’s alleged atrocities in countries such as the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria, where it has engaged in covert deployments of mercenaries.
Peskov claimed that the United States had been “demonizing” Wagner “for many years” and said the accusations were “unfounded”.
As part of the designation, the United States on Thursday issued new sanctions against Wagner, as well as 15 other Russian entities, eight personnel and four aircraft, in an attempt to target Russian battlefield resources in Ukraine.
Prigozhin has been under US sanctions since 2017 over his alleged role in running a notorious troll farm in St. Petersburg whose employees attempted to influence the 2016 US election by posing as Americans on social media.
In a statement released by Concorde Catering on Friday, Prigozhin said: “We have conducted an internal investigation into Wagner’s crimes, but have not found anything harmful. If anyone has any information about Wagner’s crimes, please send it to our press service or publish it in the media.” So we can help our fellow Americans shape their position.”
British intelligence estimates that Prigozhin, a longtime Putin confidant, has recruited at least 50,000 prisoners to fight for Wagner in Ukraine.
Prigozhin explained the draft campaign as a necessary measure to reduce public opposition to the war caused by Moscow’s overreliance on the Russian Empire A very unpopular project Putin launched it last September. The mobilization prompted hundreds of thousands of men to flee the country.
He admitted to running the mysterious group later that month.
Prigozhin was photographed with alleged Wagner fighters at a salt mine in the captured town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region earlier this month. The Kremlin has acknowledged the group’s role in capturing Solidar, a rare success after a series of humiliating retreats from territories such as the southern city of Kherson that Putin has tried to annex to Russia.
However, Wagner’s forces made little tangible progress and suffered significant losses in the Donbass, according to Western and Ukrainian officials.
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