Russia Likely Using Convict Labor for Manufacturing Demands, UK Says

Britain’s defense ministry said Russia’s defense manufacturing sector is likely resorting to convict labor to meet wartime production demands, in an intelligence update Friday about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“In November 2022,” the report posted on Twitter said, “Uralvagonzavod (UVZ), Russia’s largest tank manufacturer, told local media that it would employ 250 prisoners after meeting with the Federal Penal Service (FSIN).”

Russia has a long history of prison labor and in 2017 “forced labor as a specific criminal punishment was reintroduced,” the ministry said.

The British Defense Ministry said, “The prison population provides a unique human resource to Russian leaders to utilize in support of the ‘special military operation’ while willing volunteers remain in short supply.”

“Convict labor will likely be particularly in demand from manufacturers of relatively low-tech weaponry such as UVZ, which are almost certainly under intense pressure from Moscow to increase their production,” the ministry said.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Thursday there was fierce fighting in Soledar but that Ukraine’s forces were holding on.

Maliar spoke a day after conflicting claims about who controlled the town in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday called the battle for Soledar “a very fluid, dynamic environment, dynamic fight” amid reports that it had fallen to the Russians.

“At this point, we can’t corroborate that reporting,” Austin said in joint press briefing with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and their Japanese counterparts at the State Department.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group, said Wednesday his forces had captured all of the mining town and killed 500 Ukrainian troops in heavy fighting.

Minutes later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the fighting continued.

The Russians “are trying to pretend that part of our town of Soledar … is some sort of a Russian possession,” he said in a video address. “But fighting continues. The Donetsk theater of operations is holding.”

In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian general staff said Russian forces were suffering heavy losses. Russia has been trying to capture the salt-mining town since August because of its salt caverns and proximity to Bakhmut.

Active conflict

The area is one of the most active in the conflict, making it difficult for an independent assessment of the situation.

A Reuters photographer who recently reached the edge of Soledar said she could see smoke rising over the town, and the incoming artillery fire was relentless, Reuters reported. Ambulances were waiting to receive the wounded on the road from Soledar to Bakhmut.

Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse and Reuters.