Of the 50,000 convicts recruited by mercenary company Wagner Group from the Russian prison system, only 10,000 remain in the ranks of the military, according to Olga Romanova, head of Russia Behind Bars, an NGO that protects the rights of convicts.
The rest have deserted or have been killed or wounded, she said.
Romanova said that the convicts have begun to desert en masse in the fall, with most of them fleeing back to Russia with their weapons, and one even opened fire on Russian policemen in Rostov Region.
Up to 90% of Wagner's forces may have been recruited from Russian prisons in exchange for a pardon, according to John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the U.S. National Security Council.
The U.K. Defense Ministry said on Dec. 19 that Wagner Group is using a large number of poorly trained convicts it had recruited to fight against Ukraine.
Russia’s defense sector “highly likely” relies on convict labor to meet war-time production demands, the U.K Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence update on Jan. 13.
With a prison population reaching over 400,000 inmates due to one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world, Russia’s Federal Penal Service provides a “unique human resource” to Russian leaders to use when volunteers remain in short supply, according to the report.