The Russian Army is gradually expanding the role of women as it seeks to balance President Vladimir V. Putin’s promotion of traditional family roles with the need for new recruits for the war in Ukraine.

The military’s stepped-up appeal to women includes efforts to recruit female inmates in prisons, replicating on a much smaller scale a strategy that has swelled its ranks with male convicts.

Recruiters in military uniforms toured Russian jails for women in the fall of 2023, offering inmates a pardon and $2,000 a month — 10 times the national minimum wage — in return for serving in frontline roles for a year, according to six current and former inmates of three prisons in different regions of Russia.

Dozens of inmates just from those prisons have signed military contracts or applied to enlist, the women said, a sampling that — along with local media reports about recruitment in other regions — suggests a broader effort to enlist female convicts.

It’s not just convicts. Women now feature in Russian military recruitment advertisements across the country. A pro-Kremlin paramilitary unit fighting in Ukraine also recruits women.

“Combat experience and military specialties are not required,” read an advertisement aimed at women that was posted in March in Russia’s Tatarstan region. It offered training and a sign-up bonus equivalent to $4,000. “We have one goal — victory!”


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