A leaked video appears to show a close ally of President Vladimir Putin offering pardons to Russian prisoners if they fight in Ukraine – but warning they will be shot dead if they desert when they get there.
In the footage, a man who is believed to be Yevgeny Prigozhin, the reported head of the private military company Wagner Group, is seen speaking to a large group in the outdoor area of a prison in Yoshkar-Ola.
He describes himself as a representative of the Wagner Group.
He tells the prisoners that they will be freed if they serve in Ukraine with Wagner.
“After six months, you go home, having received a pardon,” he says but they are warned that any deserters will be executed by a firing squad.
Prigozhin has defended the idea of sending prisoners to fight in the Ukraine war after a video showed him recruiting at a prison.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner group, said those who do not want to send convicts to fight should send their own children instead.
The Wagner group is believed to have been fighting in Ukraine since 2014.
In a statement published on social media after the video went viral, Mr Prigozhin said that if he were in prison he would “dream of” joining the Wagner group to “pay my debt to the Motherland”.
He added a message to those who do not want mercenaries or prisoners to fight.
“It’s either private military companies and prisoners, or your children – decide for yourself.”
However, the statement did not explicitly address the video or admit that it was genuine.