Russian troopers combating in Ukraine who’re caught ingesting or being insubordinate are compelled into “Storm-Z” punishment squads and despatched to essentially the most harmful elements of the entrance strains to face possible dying, based on a brand new report.
Not less than 5 of those penal battalions, staffed by ex-convicts and noncompliant troops, have been thrown into a few of the heaviest combating in a bid to repel Kyiv’s counteroffensive in japanese and southern Ukraine this summer season, reported Reuters Tuesday, citing interviews with 13 individuals acquainted with the matter.
“Storm fighters, they’re simply meat,” mentioned one common soldier from military unit no. 40318 who was deployed close to Bakhmut in japanese Ukraine in Might and June.
He mentioned he had given medical remedy to a bunch of six or seven wounded “Storm-Z” fighters on the battlefield, disobeying an order from a commander to ditch the injured, which he mentioned was in keeping with the officers’ common angle in the direction of punishment squad members.
“If the commandants catch anybody with the scent of alcohol on their breath, then they instantly ship them to the Storm squads,” claimed the soldier, talking on situation of anonymity for worry of reprisals in Russia.
Russian state-controlled media retailers have reported on “Storm-Z” squads and their participation in fierce battles — however Reuters’ investigation, which incorporates interviews with 5 fighters within the items, all talking to the company anonymously, gives the primary glimpse into how the items are fashioned and used on the battlefield.
The “Storm-Z” squads — harking back to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s World Struggle II-era punishment squads — are every comprised of about 100-150 fighters and embedded inside common military items. They’ve sometimes been despatched to essentially the most weak sections of the entrance, leading to heavy casualties.
One soldier, who was recruited from jail the place he was serving time on a theft conviction, informed Reuters that 105 of the 120 males in his “Storm-Z” unit embedded with the 237th regiment have been killed or wounded in combating close to Bakhmut in June.
The penal squads, which, in contrast to the privately owned Wagner mercenary group, fall below the direct management of Russia’s protection ministry, mix convicts who volunteer to combat in change for the promise of a pardon with common troopers being punished for ingesting and different infractions, the individuals interviewed mentioned.
The “Storm-Z” squads are helpful as a result of they are often deployed as expendable cannon fodder, based on Battle Intelligence Staff, an impartial group that’s monitoring the struggle.
“The Storm fighters are simply despatched to essentially the most harmful elements of the entrance, in protection and in assault,” the group informed Reuters.
Whereas Moscow has by no means acknowledged creating “Storm-Z” items, the primary reviews of their existence emerged in April when the Institute for the Research of Struggle, a distinguished US-based assume tank, cited what it mentioned seemed to be a leaked Russian army report on the formation of the squads.
President Vladimir Putin made reference to convicts combating within the common military on Friday, saying throughout a televised assembly with troops that he was conscious that two of their comrades who have been former inmates had been killed in motion.
“They gave their lives for the motherland and have totally absolved themselves of their guilt,” mentioned Putin, including that the convicts’ households can be provided help.
Artyom Shchikin, a 29-year-old from the Mordovia area in central Russia, was serving a two-year sentence for theft, when army recruiters got here to his jail asking if inmates wished to go and combat in Ukraine, based on courtroom information and two of his kin.
He signed up as a result of, regardless that he was scheduled to be launched in December, he wished to wipe clear his felony report and earn cash for his household’s dwelling renovations.
By Might, Shchikin was assigned to a penal unit inside the 291st Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment and deployed to the Zaporizhzhia area in southern Ukraine, the place Kyiv’s forces try to punch via Russian defenses, the kin added.
Shchikin’s kin final heard from him on June 18. Days later, his unit’s positions got here below Ukrainian hearth. Three comrades who had been in a trench with him have been killed, one other had his hand torn off, whereas Shchikin himself is lacking, the kin mentioned.
When the person’s household contacted the protection division searching for solutions, their queries have been largely ignored.
“They have been from a Storm unit. For them, nobody goes to be in a rush,” mentioned one relative.
Unable to seek out solutions concerning the destiny of their family members via official channels, some households have turned to social media, posting images of lacking troopers in a “Storm-Z” group on the Russian platform “V Kontakte” and asking these with info on their whereabouts to contact them.
Moreover convicts searching for to win a pardon, “Storm-Z” items additionally embody common troopers who’ve been pressed into the punishment squads for being drunk on obligation, for doing medication, or for refusing to hold out commanders’ orders, based on two servicemen.
Underneath Russian legislation on army self-discipline, a soldier can solely be transferred to a penal unit if convicted by a army courtroom. Not one of the individuals who spoke to Reuters mentioned that the troopers who had been despatched to “Strom-Z” squads had appeared earlier than a courtroom listening to.
One group of about 20 “Storm-Z” fighters in Zaporizhzhia staged a revolt over the summer season and launched a video on June 28, saying that they refused to return to the entrance due to the best way they’ve been handled.
“On the frontline, the place we’ve been, we didn’t get deliveries of ammunition. We didn’t get water or meals. The injured weren’t taken away: nonetheless now the useless are rotting,” mentioned a fighter within the video, which was revealed by Gulagu.web, a France-based Russian prisoners’ rights group.
“We’re given dreadful orders that aren’t even price finishing up,” he added. “We refuse to proceed finishing up fight missions,” the squad member lamented.
After the video’s launch, Russian army law enforcement officials beat up members of the squad, however the situations have been mentioned to have since improved, based on the kin of two fighters.
Reuters was unable to find out what number of troopers in complete are serving within the penal items — however Serhii Cherevaty, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Operational Command East, was quoted by The Telegraph as saying in June that there have been greater than 170,000 “Storm-Z” fighters of their “operational zone.”
With Put up wires