Russia has deployed penal units known as “Storm-Z” squads to the frontlines in Ukraine, composed of military and civilian offenders, including drunk recruits, insubordinate soldiers, and convicts. These squads, each about 100-150 strong, have been sent to the most exposed areas of the front and often sustain heavy losses. The squads are officially unofficial, as the Russian defense ministry has not acknowledged their existence. They are considered expendable infantry, sent to the most dangerous parts of the front.
The deployment of these squads marks a departure for Russia in Ukraine, as they come under the direct command of the defense ministry and combine convicts who volunteer to fight in exchange for a pardon with regular soldiers being punished for disciplinary breaches. The penal units are a cost-effective way for the Russian military to maintain its presence in Ukraine. It’s a method that has historical precedent, as it resembles the Soviet “punishment battalions” used in World War II.
The use of these units reflects the complexities and challenges in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and the secrecy surrounding their formation raises concerns about the treatment of military personnel.
This report is based on interviews with sources who have direct knowledge of these units but have requested anonymity due to fear of reprisals. The Russian defense ministry has not responded to media inquiries regarding the existence of Storm-Z squads.