Ukraine war: Russia goes back to prisons to feed its war machine

The Russian military’s recruitment of prisoners for combat in Ukraine has come to the forefront, replacing the Wagner mercenary group, which had previously employed this practice. These units are informally referred to as Storm-Z, with the letter Z symbolizing Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine and the Russian word “zek,” meaning “inmate.”

The Storm-Z units seem to be treated as expendable forces, often thrown into the heat of battle with little regard for their safety. Additionally, there are reports of soldiers from other army units being assigned to Storm-Z as a form of punishment for disciplinary infractions like insubordination or drunkenness.

Last year, Yevgeny Prigozhin, commonly known as “Putin’s chef” and the leader of the Wagner group, was granted access to prisons for recruitment after significant Russian casualties in Ukraine. He promised convicts early release and the removal of their convictions if they survived six months of service in Ukraine. The Wagner group, comprised of experienced mercenaries and convicts, was effective in battle but later faced internal conflicts and disappeared from the Ukrainian front.

It appears that Russia’s defense ministry has now taken over the recruitment of inmates for the war in Ukraine, following a similar pattern to the Wagner group. These recruits sign contracts with the defense ministry, with promises of generous payments, including a monthly salary, injury compensation, and benefits for their families. However, many found themselves ill-equipped and poorly informed when deployed to Ukraine, facing dire circumstances on the front lines.

While the Russian military has not officially confirmed or denied these practices, there are numerous indications that they are sending prisoners to units referred to as Storm-Z. The tragic stories of these individuals underscore the challenging and dangerous conditions they face, often with little consideration for their well-being.

The defense ministry introduced “storm units” earlier this year, tasked with breaching complex sections of Ukrainian defenses. In practice, these units are often deployed without careful consideration of their survival prospects. Furthermore, there are reports of servicemen from other army detachments being sent to Storm-Z as a form of punishment for disciplinary issues or misconduct, echoing historical practices like Stalin’s penal military units.

Afonso Alcântara

CEO of Walerts is an expert in Digital Marketing and Artificial Intelligence. CEO of Wproo, an international Web Software Development company.

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