Russia: Convicts reportedly pardoned by Wagner group
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Former police officer Mikhail Popkov was jailed in 2015 after carrying out a string of gruesome murders in the Russian far-east. The brutality of the crimes in Angarsk and Irkutsk between 1992 and 2010 earned him the nickname “the Werewolf.”
During an interview with the Russian news channel Vesti, Popkov was asked: “What is your dream?” Popkov replied: “To get into the army.”
The 58-year-old said that he recognized fighting in Ukraine “is not a computer game” and that “these are not fiction books about superheroes.”
“Taking into consideration my military specialization, I think it is in quite high demand now.”
Popkov added: “Even though I have been in prison for 10 years, I don’t think it would be so hard to learn new skills.”
It has been reported that Wagner, a Russian private military company, has been recruiting former prisoners to fight in Ukraine.
According to the Washington Post, the United States estimates that Wagner has a total of 50,000 troops in Ukraine, with 40,000 of them being convicts recruited from prisons.
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Other sources also indicate this recruitment of convicts, for instance, one Russian magazine has reported that Wagner is recruiting convicts from inside St Petersburg prisons, promising them 200,000 rubles (£2,400) for six months and freedom if they survive the conflict.
Moreover, Wagner has also tried to recruit inmates from prisons in the Central African Republic.
It comes as Vladimir Putin defended the invasion of Ukraine in a speech delivered during a war memorial event in St Petersburg on Wednesday.
During the rare public appearance, the Russian leader vowed to bring an end to the longing-running conflict in eastern Ukraine.
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He chose to deliver the statement in his home city on the 80th anniversary of the breaking of the siege of St Petersburg, then Leningrad, during World War 2.
Putin laid a wreath at the city’s Piskaryov memorial cemetery, where 420,000 civilian victims of the siege and 70,000 Soviet soldiers were buried.
He also put flowers in a section where his brother, who died as a child during the siege, was buried in a mass grave.
Addressing gathered veterans, Putin said: “Large-scale combat operations involving heavy weapons, artillery, tanks and aircraft haven’t stopped in Donbas since 2014. All that we are doing today as part of the special military operation is an attempt to stop this war. This is the meaning of our operation — protecting people who live on those territories.”
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