khrushcheva173_MAXIM MARMURAFP via Getty Images_russian inmates MAXIM MARMUR/AFP via Getty Images

Putin’s Killer Patriotism

Pardoning violent convicts might not be a particularly desirable way to get more soldiers onto the battlefield in Ukraine, but for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the alternative would be even worse. Last year’s “partial mobilization” triggered a significant backlash against the Kremlin, and Putin is fearful of a repeat.

SAINT PETERSBURG – In 2014, the former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist from the liberal publication Novaya Gazeta. Now, just nine years into his sentence, Khadzhikurbanov has been pardoned, after spending six months fighting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. As far as Putin is concerned, this makes Khadzhikurbanov a patriot.

Khadzhikurbanov is far from the only violent criminal to earn a pardon in Russia by joining Putin’s army in Ukraine. It is a practice inspired by none other than Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a plane explosion two months after his Wagner Group mercenaries staged an aborted rebellion in June.

Despite his inglorious end, Prigozhin was long a crucial ally of Putin. His resumé included running a troll farm to create Russian propaganda stories and deploying his Wagner fighters in African countries, in part to gain access to resources like gold and uranium, often in exchange for protecting the lives and interests of local leaders. Wagner soldiers were also needed in the Ukraine war, fighting some of its bloodiest battles, such as the months-long struggle for Bakhmut.