Russia deploys punishment battalions in echo of Stalin

LONDON, Oct 3 (Reuters) –

Drunk recruits. Insubordinate soldiers. Convicts.

They are among the hundreds of military and civilian offenders who’ve been pressed into Russian penal models known as “Storm-Z” squads and despatched to the frontlines in Ukraine this yr, in accordance to 13 men and women with knowledge of the issue, like 5 fighters in the models.

Couple of stay to inform their tale, the people reported.

“Storm fighters, they are just meat,” said one particular normal soldier from army device no. 40318 who was deployed around the fiercely contested city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine in Might and June.

He reported he’d provided clinical treatment method to a team of 6 or 7 wounded Storm-Z fighters on the battlefield, disobeying an buy from a commander – whose identify he didn’t know – to depart the adult men. He said he failed to know why the commander gave the purchase, but claimed that it typified how Storm-Z fighters ended up deemed of lesser worth than standard troops by officers.

The soldier, who asked for anonymity mainly because he feared prosecution in Russia for publicly discussing the war, mentioned he had sympathy for the men’s plight: “If the commandants capture any person with the smell of liquor on their breath, then they instantly mail them to the Storm squads.”

When contacted by Reuters, an officer at device no. 40318 declined to remark on Storm-Z and ended the get in touch with. The Kremlin referred Reuters inquiries to the Russian defence ministry, which didn’t respond to a request for remark.

Russian condition-controlled media has reported that Storm-Z squads exist, that they took portion in intensive battles and some of their customers acquired medals for bravery, but it has not disclosed how they are shaped, or the losses they just take.

Reuters is the first news organisation to compile a complete account of how the squads are put jointly and deployed, by speaking to various resources with direct know-how of what is happening.

Like the soldier from unit no. 40318, the 13 folks interviewed – who also contain four kinfolk of Storm-Z associates as very well as a few troopers in common models who interacted with the squads – all asked for anonymity, citing worry of reprisals. Reuters verified the identities of all the fighters associated applying legal records, social media accounts, or by speaking to their fellow serviceman and their families.

The penal squads, each about 100-150 strong and embedded in just typical military models, have generally been sent to the most exposed components of the front and frequently maintain weighty losses, according to Reuters interviews with the folks, who determined at minimum 5 Storm-Z teams fighting to repel a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the east and south.

Three of the five Storm-Z fighters interviewed by Reuters, and the family of 3 other Storm-Z fighters, described nightmarish engagements that observed a great deal of their squads wiped out.

1 fighter, with a conviction for theft who was recruited from jail, said all but 15 of the 120 adult males in his device embedded with the 237th regiment had been killed or wounded in preventing in the vicinity of Bakhmut in June.

The deployment of this kind of squads marks a departure for Russia in Ukraine: even though the Wagner mercenary group – now staying disbanded after a June mutiny – sent convicts to battle on the frontline, the Storm-Z units arrive less than the immediate command of the defence ministry.

The squads also mix convicts who volunteer to combat in trade for the assure of a pardon with normal troopers being punished for disciplinary breaches, the persons interviewed said.

The Storm-Z squads are beneficial to the Russian defence ministry because they can be deployed as expendable infantry, according to Conflict Intelligence Group, an independent organisation which is monitoring the war. “The Storm fighters are just despatched to the most dangerous parts of the front, in defence and in attack,” the group, which was founded in Russia, told Reuters.

Although the Russian defence ministry has hardly ever acknowledged producing Storm-Z models, the initially studies of their existence emerged in April when the Institute for the Examine of War, a U.S.-dependent assume-tank, cited what it explained appeared to be a leaked Russian navy report on the formation of the squads.

Reuters wasn’t in a position to identify how lots of soldiers in full are serving in the units, nevertheless the interviews with the people today familiar with the make any difference point to at least several hundred Storm-Z fighters currently becoming deployed on the frontline.

Wagner had about 25,000 fighters engaged in the conflict, its late leader Yevgeny Prigozhin mentioned at the time of his June mutiny.

President Vladimir Putin manufactured reference to convicts combating in the frequent army on Friday. At a televised meeting with a little team of normal Russian servicemen, he stated he was aware that two of their comrades, previous prison inmates, had been killed in action. “They gave their life for the motherland and have thoroughly absolved them selves of their guilt,” stated Putin, adding that the convicts’ families would be provided assistance, without elaborating.

There is historic precedent for armed forces offenders becoming pressed into fighting units in 1942, when the Red Military was retreating from a Nazi advance, Soviet leader Josef Stalin requested soldiers who panicked or still left their posts into “punishment battalions” deployed to the most perilous areas of the entrance, according to a decree he signed.

Ukraine’s governing administration has stated it also releases some convicts if they agree to fight in the war.


Storm-Z is an unofficial term made use of by Russian troops, combining a expression for assault troops with the letter Z, adopted by the navy as a image of their invasion of Ukraine.

Artyom Shchikin, a 29-yr-aged from the Mordovia location in central Russia, was serving a two-year sentence for robbery handed down in December 2021 when defence ministry recruiters arrived to his jail asking if inmates needed to go and struggle in Ukraine, according to courtroom documents and two of his relatives.

He signed up due to the fact, even while he was scheduled for launch in December this year, he preferred to wipe cleanse his legal report in addition generate revenue so his family could renovate their house, his relatives customers said. Three Storm-Z fighters said they were being supplied wages of about 200,000 roubles ($2,000) for each thirty day period, however explained they experienced been paid roughly fifty percent that quantity, on regular.

By May possibly this calendar year, Shchikin was assigned to a penal device in just the 291st Guards Motorised Rifle Regiment and deployed to the Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine, where by Kyiv’s forces are striving to break by means of Russian defences, the family members additional.

An official with the regimental headquarters failed to answer to Reuters queries.

Vladimir Rogov, an official in the Russian-put in administration in Zaporizhzhia who gives regular on line updates about the conflict, has posted on Telegram that the 291st regiment was combating in the location all through the summer time. Rogov failed to reply to a Reuters request for remark.

Shchikin’s kin previous heard from him on June 18.

Times later on, his unit’s positions came less than Ukrainian fire, the kin reported, citing conversations with two survivors from Shchikin’s squad. A few comrades who had been in a trench with him were being killed, a different experienced his hand torn off, even though Shchikin himself is missing, the relatives explained. His overall body hasn’t been recovered.

Shchikin’s kinfolk said when they asked the defence ministry for solutions about his destiny, it either did not respond or failed to give any definitive responses.

“They ended up from a Storm unit. For them, no just one is heading to be in a rush,” reported one particular relative.

Reuters was not able to independently confirm the relatives’ account of events.

DRUNK ON Obligation, Working with Medications

When convicts form the core of the penal squads, some typical soldiers have been assigned to them as punishment for breaking self-control, in accordance to two soldiers who claimed users of their units experienced been transferred in this way, as nicely as a Storm-Z fighter known as Igor, a convict jailed for tried murder.

The two troopers, which includes the just one from device no. 40318, reported officers experienced despatched soldiers to Storm-Z for staying drunk on obligation, for applying medicine, and for refusing to have out orders.

According to Russian legislation on armed service self-control, a soldier can only be transferred to a penal unit if convicted by a army court docket. None of the men and women who told Reuters of soldiers remaining sent to Storm-Z said the adult males experienced participated in a courtroom listening to. Contacted last week, the soldier from unit no. 40318 explained there have been no court hearings associated in these types of transfers, and Igor, the Storm-Z fighter, explained he experienced no understanding of courtroom hearings obtaining taken position.

The Geneva convention, a established of worldwide procedures of war, isn’t going to protect soldiers being punished by their possess facet.


Just one team of about 20 Storm-Z fighters in Zaporizhzhia, who ended up part of device number 22179, made a decision they’d had ample of their treatment, refused an order to go back to the frontline, and recorded a June 28 video complaining about their therapy. Reuters called figures shown for the device, but they had been out of procedure.

“On the frontline, exactly where we have been, we did not get deliveries of ammunition. We did not get drinking water or food stuff. The injured have been not taken absent: even now now the lifeless are rotting,” mentioned a fighter in the online video, whom Reuters was not able to determine.

“We are specified dreadful orders that are not even well worth carrying out,” he included. “We refuse to continue carrying out fight missions.”

Reuters established the identities of two of the fighters associated in the revolt, and spoke to a relative of every single gentleman who corroborated the account in the video clip, which was printed on June 28 by Gulagu.web, a France-dependent campaign team for Russian prisoners’ rights, and reviewed by Reuters.

Following the online video was printed, armed forces law enforcement officers defeat up the two fighters, and some others in their squad, as punishment for their revolt, the two family members mentioned. Because then, they reported the two fighters had informed them that disorders had enhanced but they did not know when the men would be authorized to quit the navy.

Russian officers have made no general public comment about the incident, and the defence ministry failed to reply to Reuters queries.

The household member of a person of the troopers in the revolt, a male from Siberia who experienced volunteered to be part of Storm-Z from prison, stated she dreaded news from the front.

“My God, permit this close soon,” she said of the war.

(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya and Maria Tsvetkova Editing by Christian Lowe and Pravin Char)