Russia has been using convicted criminals to supplement its military forces in Ukraine for well over a year and a half. Despite the number of pardoned criminals who return from the war and carry out further crimes, including murder and rape, Russian lawmakers have proposed to expand the recruitment process further.

The State Duma voted for a bill sponsored by members of the ruling United Russia party on Tuesday to amend 2023’s law number 270-FZ. The law existing offers pardons to those who enlist to fight in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s so-called “special military operation” but currently only for those suspected or convicted of crimes committed before June 2023.

Praising the amendment, a senior member of the Duma, Pavel Krasheninnikov, said “the revised legislation will allow for anyone accused, under investigation, on trial or who has been sentenced at any time to sign a military contract.”


The independent media outlet Vertska quoted an unnamed Russian Deputy as saying the legislation is intended to “increase the appeal of army service” by showing that “for military achievements, the state is willing to forgive some criminals.”

The source said: “It’s time for a change in moral priorities, and small-time criminals can seek mercy from the state in exchange for acts of courage.”

He added that the appearance of this bill so close to Russia’s presidential election is no coincidence, explaining that the initiative is meant to “create a positive emotional background” for Moscow’s soldiers.

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Another slight change is that, in future, those recruited to fight will have any criminal case suspended or those who have been found guilty will have their prison sentence converted to a suspended sentence for the duration of their service. Their criminal records would only

be expunged and they would only be pardoned if they serve well and receive a state award.

Krasheninnikov said the amendments would replace the existing laws and thus allow for the recruitment of future suspects or criminals. The future list of pardonable crimes will not include serious offences such as treason, espionage, terrorism and sex crimes.


The bill still needs the approval of Russia’s upper-house Federation Council followed by a presidential endorsement by Putin before becoming law.

The practice of recruiting prisoners for the war in Ukraine was spearheaded by the Wagner mercenary group in 2022, although Russia’s Defense Ministry took over prison recruitment early last year.

Shortly after the enactment of the original law, Putin said that he had personally pardoned prisoners who agreed to fight in Ukraine, claiming that recidivism among criminals who complete their sentences and return to normal life could be as high as 40 percent, while for those who participate in “special military operation” relapses are very small, at around 0.4 percent.

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