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Vladimir Putin has been accused of wanting to turn Russian female inmates into “cannon fodder” on the frontlines of Ukraine. Leaked audio has suggested the Kremlin is showing signs of recruiting women prisoners, according to both Ukrainian officials and an independent Russian prisons watchdog. While the Ukraine’s Defence Ministry reported a train transporting “convicted women” prisoners to the Donetsk region, the Moscow-based prisoner rights group Russia Behind Bars said the female inmates were taken from the colonies of southern Russia.
However, sending female prisoners to the frontlines would reduce them to “cannon fodder” as Russia’s army does not have the capacity to protect them, said Moldovan political scientist Denis Cenusa of Freedom House.
“The recruitment of women from Russian prisons seems more like an attempt to diversify human resources for ‘cannon fodder’ purposes than a well-thought-out idea to improve the manpower and military potential of the Russian forces involved in the aggression against Ukraine,” Mr Cenusa told Express.co.uk.
Mr Cenusa added: “Russia has neither the time nor the gender culture in the military to ensure adequate combat protection for women that are adjusted to their needs and physical conditions.”
If Russia goes ahead with the reported plans to send female inmates, it would only lead to more deaths on the Ukrainian battlefield as Russian women would be “even more vulnerable”, the security analyst added.
Reports of women being sent to the battlefield emerged in December when a leaked video in which Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said that active efforts to recruit female prisoners were ongoing but had not been approved.
“We are working in this direction. There is resistance, but we will press on,” he said on Telegram, adding that women could be used in “sabotage groups and sniper pairs.”
Dr Huseyn Aliyev, an expert on Russia specialising in war dynamics, said he “highly doubts” Russia will ever mobilise women.
“Russia has not yet carried out the total mobilisation of men, so it’s not likely that females will be drafted,” he told Express.co.uk.
He added: “Besides, there are not so many females convicted on serious charges and long sentences, so the pool is likely to be limited.”
Military expert Valery Ryabykh said that the estimated 30,000 female Russian conscripts will not be enough to turn the tide, as only 10 percent of them may wish to “exchange” a term of imprisonment for participation in the war with Ukraine – an offer made by the Wagner Group and Russia.
“So we can be talking about an additional resource of 3-4 thousand female prisoners, which, of course, is not enough to change the war dynamic,” he told Express.co.uk.
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Dr Oleg Ignatov, think tank Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Russia, said that it remains unclear in what activities the female inmates would be involved.
“Whether they are soldiers or auxiliaries, we don’t know,” he said, adding that conscripting women would go against Russia’s male military tradition.
However, what could be expected is another wave of male Russian draftees to the frontlines, he said.
The Kremlin denied the reports on Wednesday.
Russia’s defence ministry will start a new recruitment campaign on April 1, with the aim of recruiting 400,000 professional soldiers to the Russian army, according to a report.
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