MORE than 350,000 Russians convicted of crimes or awaiting trial could be freed under a huge amnesty programme proposed by Vladimir Putin as part of celebrations in Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day.
The programme could release some 260,000 people either currently behind bars or serving suspended sentences, and would remove a significant number of the 670,000 people incarcerated in Russia’s notoriously grim and brutal prison system.
It will be a fair amnesty but I stress that those involved in serious crimes won’t be affected by itPavel Krasheninnikov
Russia is investing significant amounts of financial and political capital in marking the anniversary of the end of what Russians call as the Great Patriotic War with lavish celebrations planned in Moscow.
“It will be a fair amnesty but I stress that those involved in serious crimes won’t be affected by it,” said Pavel Krasheninnikov, the head of the Russian parliament’s committee on civil and criminal law, explaining that anybody, for example, convicted or charged with murder, terrorism or crimes against children will remain behind bars.
“We have made a list of those covered by the amnesty. It includes servicemen who have served their country at home and abroad and the disabled. We have also included people suffering from cancer, and women over 55 and men over 60.”
Russia has a tradition of freeing prisoners to mark significant VE Day anniversaries with thousands released in 1995, 2000 and 2005, but the one planned for May tops them all.
“The figure of 260,000 people who may become eligible for amnesty is based on data on 60,000 prisoners and 200,000 people who have suspended sentences,” said Mr Krasheninnikov.
“We have no information on cases that will be closed under the amnesty. Consequently, the number of people eligible for amnesty will be higher than 300,000 or even 350,000.”
It is hoped the amnesty will make a positive contribution an atmosphere surrounding 9 May’s Victory Day celebrations that have been overshadowed by a boycott by Western leaders owing to Russian policy in Ukraine. Despite some 16,000 troops, 200 armoured vehicles and 150 aircraft taking part in a Red Square parade, Mr Putin will have to celebrate with a number of despots and dictators, including Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, will travel to Moscow but will skip the parade, and, instead, lay a wreath at a Soviet war memorial.
The boycott is a contrast to the turnout for the 60th anniversary when the leaders of France, Germany and the US attended the Red Square parade.
But the prospect of thousands of ex-convicts on the loose has caused disquiet in neighbouring Ukraine. The former Soviet republic, which maintains its eastern regions are the victims of Russian military intervention, has claimed the former prisoners could soon be joining the ranks of the pro-Russian rebels fighting Ukrainian troops.