A man, allegedly recruited by Russia’s Wagner Group to fight in Ukraine while incarcerated, has been arrested after deserting his post and killing a Russian police officer reports said Wednesday.
The Kremlin-linked infamous mercenary group began turning to Russia’s penal system earlier this year to bolster its ranks in Ukraine, Western defense officials confirmed in September.
Those incarcerated were offered a release from prison in exchange for their service on the front lines as Russia looked to add men to its fighting force and counter its heavy losses.
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According to Russian news outlets on Wednesday, 38-year-old Pavel Nikolin was detained on suspicion of shooting a police officer Tuesday in the Russian city of Novoshakhtinsk, located less than 15 miles from the border with Ukraine’s Luhansk region.
Russian Telegram channel Baza – which regularly posts information relating to Russia’s government or military dealings – reported that Nikolin was serving time for charges relating to robbery at a correctional facility near the city of Ufa in eastern Russia.
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The Wagner recruit allegedly “changed his mind” about fighting in Ukraine and deserted his post on Nov. 24.
The circumstances around the attack when Nikolin fired upon police officers with a Kalashnikov assault rifle – a Soviet era weapon dubbed an AK-47 – remain unclear.
At least one police officer was wounded in the fight and Russian authorities reportedly closed public transit and encouraged residents to stay indoors as a manhunt ensued, reported RIA.
Nikolin was allegedly found Wednesday on a pig farm, where he resisted arrest before footage on Baza showed him being escorted by Russian officials.
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It is unclear what will happen to Nikolin next, though comments made by Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin earlier this year suggests he could face a death sentence.
“Nobody goes back behind bars,” Prigozhin told inmates according to September reports. “If you serve six months, you are free. If you arrive in Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we execute you.”