Society 22 November 2022

Russia ignores the killing of an ex-convict turned soldier in Ukraine

  • Nuzhin was sentenced to 24 years for murder in the early 2000s, and that term was extended by four years following a botched escape attempt. He was due to be released in 2027. In August, Nuzhin phoned his family to say that Prigozhin had visited his prison camp to recruit men for Wagner, which was fighting side-by-side with the Russian Army in Ukraine. Nuzhin agreed to fight.
  • But, in early September, Nuzhin surrendered. He quickly began appearing regularly in Ukrainian media reports and gave interviews to journalists in which he criticized the war. He also said that he wanted to fight for Ukraine. “I would rather fight on Ukraine’s side, that’s why I surrendered. Because it wasn’t Ukraine that attacked Russia, it was Putin that attracted Ukraine,” he said in one interview.
  • It remains unclear how Nuzhin ended up back in Russia. Apparently, he voluntarily joined an exchange of prisoners — at least, that is what Ukrainian officials have said. The Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly stated that any Russian soldiers who willingly surrender will not be returned to Russia against their will. But Nuzhin is not a Russian soldier — he was recruited from jail. A BBC source in Kyiv, who is involved in organizing prisoner exchanges, said that, in Nuzhin’s case, there were negotiations with Wagner, which also has a budget to facilitate exchanges.
  • A video of Nuzhin’s murder circulated on Telegram channels linked to Wagner. In the video, the former prisoner, whose head is taped to a brick, says he was “hit on the head” in Kyiv and “woke up in a basement.” Later in the clip, a man in military uniform kills Nuzhin with a sledgehammer. Prigozhin later said of the killing in a statement released to the media: “Live like a dog, die like a dog.”
  • The Russian authorities chose to ignore the video of Nuzhin. There was no word of any investigation, nor any official reaction. President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov responded to a question about the slaughter of the former convict by saying: “This is none of our business”. Alexander Bastrykin, head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, also made no comments, as did the General Prosecutor’s Office. Valery Fadeyev, head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, also declined to intervene, saying that “anything goes” in wartime. However, according to Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova, the video is still being studied.
  • The reaction contrasts with Russia’s response to another recent video, which apparently shows Ukrainian soldiers killing Russian prisoners. Fadeyev said that information about this clip would be sent to “2,000 addresses,” including the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Russia’s Foreign Ministry demanded that international organizations “condemn this egregious crime.”

Why the world should care

Wagner operates in a legal gray area, which means Nuzhin was not an official Russian serviceman — removing some of the obligation to explain his death. But his murder is a striking example of how the Russian authorities can hush up uncomfortable topics.

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