Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who founded the country’s most powerful mercenary group, on Thursday released the first group of prisoners he had recruited to fight in a six-month war against Ukraine in exchange for freedom , according to nbc news,

The Vladimir Putin aide admitted his role in setting up the mercenary Wagner Group in 2022, the same year he was cleared by the US for interfering in its elections.

“Don’t drink too much, don’t do drugs, don’t rape women- [sex is] Only for love or for money as they say,” Prigozhin reportedly told the group on Thursday in footage provided by Russia’s state news agency RIA. “The police should treat you with respect. You Learned a lot – first of all: how to kill the enemy.”

Prigozhin urged the men not to “practice that skill” on “forbidden territory” and said they could return to battle if they wanted to “kill the enemy again”.

The Wagner Group, consisting of top military officers, former spies and former prisoners, has the motto “Blood, Honor, Motherland, Courage”. Originally staffed by Russian veterans, the group has fought in countries including Libya, Syria, Mali and the Central African Republic. The group that has been accused of numerous human rights abuses has been used in the war against Ukraine To compensate reduction of Russian troops.

Prigozhin, whose Concorde catering company brought in a handsome amount of money for him, has recruited 35,000 prisoners since last June, according to an estimate by the prisoner advocacy organization Russia Behind Bars. according to the New York Times,

Prigozhin was banned by several Western countries for his alleged election interference.

Mikhail Svetlov via Getty Images

In exchange for their duty, Prigozhin reportedly promised the men substantial pay, bonuses, and death and disability pay – as well as their freedom through pardon after six months.

However, the validity of the promised pardon is unclear. Under the Russian constitution, only the president can issue pardons for prisoners. as new York Times Reportedly, the Kremlin did not publish any pardon orders this week. Former prisoners who fought for Russia in exchange for freedom have inquired before Validity of pardon granted for work relating to Wagner Group.

In the video footage, Prigozhin is seen shaking hands with the men. RIA said he was deported from the southern Krasnodar Territory after receiving a medal for bravery.

“I hope that the adrenaline that you have used for the past half year will be enough for at least a month,” said Prigozhin. “Some of you I see for the last time, some I will see again. Remember that life has given you this chance: You did not betray honor, you did not diminish it.

The 61-year-old spent nine years in prison for robbery and other crimes before going into business. Last year, the US State Department offered $10 million for information on Prigozhin’s 2016 election interference. He also used a troll farm to affect the 2018 midterms.

“You defended the motherland, you were all ready to die in the last 180 days,” he told the men on Thursday. “Now we have to control ourselves.”

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