Putin’s prison-military complex

4 12 2023

Vladimir Putin’s two main advances on Stalinism are (1) the digitization of propaganda and its spread into social-media systems, making for a much more sophisticated penetration of contemporary global information systems, and (2) the mobilization of Russia’s vast prison system — the “Gulag archipelago” made famous by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn — into a war machine, a prison-military-industrial complex.

The New York Times’ analysis of the latter, published this morning, presents it in its broad contours:

“In some ways, Mr. Putin’s war has turned the country’s entire criminal justice system into a military recruitment tool, experts say. Russia’s extremely high conviction rates — 99.6 percent — its long prison terms, and inhumane conditions inside jails create strong incentives to risk death to obtain freedom.

“Wagner said that about 50,000 inmates served in their ranks in Ukraine, and that one in five of them died.” [. . .]

“But one of three recruits was serving time for murder. This rate is more than 30 times higher than the overall percentage of murder convicts in the Russian prison system, underscoring the attraction of military service to men with long sentences.” [. . .]

“[Mr. Mokin’s] experience appears typical of inmates who struggle to fit into the brutal caste system of many Russian jails. Enforced by underworld leaders known as bratva, the system ostracizes and humiliates inmates deemed to have violated complex social rules that govern Russian criminal life.

“Inmates in the bottom rungs are forced to act as servants, carry out demeaning tasks such as cleaning toilets, and can be subjected to sexual abuse. Drug dealers like Mr. Mokin are traditionally assigned low social status.

“’All you need to make sure that people keep enlisting is to create bad conditions’ in prison, said Anna Karetnikova, a former senior prison official in the Moscow region, who left Russia in protest of the war. ‘This is not patriotism. It’s survival.'”

For the entire article, see “A Prison at War: The Convicts Sustaining Putin’s Invasion.”



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