Russian politician says law needed to protect society from convicts who fought in Ukraine

LONDON (Reuters) - A member of Russia's lower house of parliament said law enforcement authorities need to do more to protect civilians from ex-convicts who have returned home from fighting in Ukraine.

Nina Ostanina, a Communist Party deputy who has been sanctioned by Western countries over Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, told the gazeta.ru newspaper in an interview that violent crimes involving decommissioned soldiers "will be even more numerous" if authorities do not act.

Reports of Russian soldiers committing serious crimes including murder and rape after returning from Ukraine are widespread and have posed problems for the Kremlin, which portrays those fighting in its "special military operation" as heroes.

Many of the offenders are men who had been released early from prison, where they were serving time for serious crimes, in exchange for fighting in the war. Some Russian prisons are set to close this year because so many of their inmates have gone to the battlefields in Ukraine.

The comments by Ostanina, published on Wednesday, amount to a rare admission from a Russian politician that returning soldiers are putting strains on local communities.

Ostanina told gazeta.ru that law enforcement should be obliged to keep regular tabs on the former soldiers, and also help them find jobs and reintegrate into society.

"In no case can we release law enforcement agencies from control over those who have returned from the special operation zone and were previously in prison," Ostanina said. "This is, to put it mildly, to protect society from these people."

Ostanina, who chairs a parliamentary committee on "family protection," said she expected lawmakers to propose a bill on the matter in the near future, but advised them to "hurry up".

She was speaking after authorities in Siberia said they arrested an ex-soldier for brutally murdering a 12-year-old girl and dumping her body into a well.

Local media in Russia is littered with stories of similar gruesome crimes. An ex-soldier was given seven years in April for kicking a man to death while drunk. Last week a former Wagner mercenary was handed a 14-year sentence for killing his four-year-old stepdaughter after a quarrel with his wife.

(Reporting and writing by Lucy Papachristou; editing by Mark Heinrich)