The head of a notorious Russian mercenary group has defended the idea of sending prisoners to fight in Ukraine's war after the publication of a video showing him recruiting in a prison.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the notorious Wagner group, said those who do not want to send convicts to fight should send their own children.
Earlier, leaked footage showed him telling prisoners that they would be released if they fought for six months with his group. Wagner's group is believed to have been fighting in Ukraine since 2014.
In a statement posted on social media after the video was leaked, Mr. Prigozhin said that if he were in prison he would "dream" of joining the Wagner group to "fulfill my debt to the Motherland".
He added a message to those who do not want mercenaries or prisoners to fight that "either [private military companies and prisoners will go] or your children - decide for yourselves."
The British Ministry of Defence said the recruitment of prisoners suggested that Russia was suffering from a "critical" shortage of infantry troops. The video - verified by the BBC - confirmed long-standing suspicions that Russia hopes to increase troops by recruiting prisoners.
Russian law does not allow the release of prisoners in exchange for military or mercenary service, but Prigozhin said in the video that "no one goes back behind bars" if they serve with the Wagner group.
"If you serve six months, you are free," he said. However, he warned potential recruits against desertion, adding: "If you arrive in Ukraine and decide it's not for you, we will execute you."
The Kremlin denies that the invasion of Ukraine constitutes war and is not proceeding with a draft, for legal reasons that are also related to the law of war.