Russian troops suffer heavy losses near the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka and around Bachmut. But the Storm-Z battalion, which fights in the front lines, is bearing the brunt of the blows. Soldiers from the penal battalion complain that they are being used as ‘cannon fodder’ in the storming of Ukrainian positions.
There are no figures on Storm-Z’s losses in the battles for Avdiivka and the Russian-captured Bachmut last year, but according to Russian military bloggers, entire units have been decimated recently.
The Ministry of Defense set up Storm-Z at the beginning of this year as a counterbalance to the now disbanded mercenary army of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash in August, probably in revenge for Wagner’s failed mutiny against the Russian military leadership. Just like Wagner, Storm-Z consists largely of ex-prisoners who are recruited from the prison camps, with the promise that they will be pardoned after six months.
‘Red’ penal colonies
According to Russian sources, these mainly concern ex-prisoners from the so-called ‘red’ penal colonies, where soldiers and police officers who have turned to crime are detained. There are also soldiers who have refused orders at the front in Ukraine or have been caught using alcohol or drugs.
During the Second World War, soldiers who had left their posts were also assigned to ‘punishment battalions’ of the Red Army on the orders of Soviet dictator Stalin. Those units were given the most dangerous assignments, just like Storm-Z now. According to Russian military bloggers, the new penal battalions are being deployed to force a breakthrough if an offensive threatens to stall.
It is unclear how many men Storm-Z now has. But according to military experts, the Defense Ministry’s ‘volunteer battalion’ cannot match Wagner, which had between forty and fifty thousand fighters stationed in Ukraine.
Initially, many ex-prisoners who signed up for the battalion were seduced by Ministry of Defense recruiters with the assurance that they would be better off with Storm-Z than with Wagner, which sacrificed more than twenty thousand men to the capture in May of this year. of Bachmut. But Storm-Z has now also acquired the reputation of a ‘meat grinder’.
Russian military bloggers criticize the careless way their commanders handle the Storm-Z battalions. According to Sviatoslav Golikov, a former army instructor who also fought in the Donbas in 2014, the soldiers are being used as “cannon fodder”. Often they are sent forward without any artillery cover. The result, he says, is that 40 to 70 percent of the troops are eliminated within a few days.
Barely any weapons or ammunition
According to Golikov, the Storm-Z recruits often do not receive enough weapons and ammunition. That is also the experience of an ex-prisoner from St. Petersburg who joined Storm-Z and was sent to the front in the Donetsk region. In April, he complained in a video that he had been sent into the trenches “with only a Kalashnikov assault rifle” against tanks, guns and drones. “We are all alone here. No weapons. The bodies are not removed. We have no support from tanks or artillery. If they come here and are bombed, they won’t show their nose here anymore…”, he noted bitterly.
His commanders also did not make themselves heard. “We don’t know them. We never saw them. We were brought here by car. We don’t know what to do,” he lamented.
On his Telegram channel ‘Philosopher in gray area’, Golikov questions the use of the often barely trained ex-prisoners of Storm-Z. “I know what the army leadership thinks about such units, they are punishment battalions. But in fact it is a clear waste of properly motivated staff.”
Compensation for surviving relatives
Storm-Z recruits say wounded soldiers are often abandoned by their superiors. One of them was even ordered by his commander to leave a wounded comrade lying there. Another suggested that some commanders do this to pocket the salaries of “missing” soldiers. “We are not so much concerned about our lives, but mainly about whether our relatives will receive financial compensation,” he said in a video on Telegram.
Relatives of Storm-Z soldiers who have not heard from their relatives at the front for a while say that they often do not receive an answer when they knock on the army’s door. “Apparently people from penal battalions are not a priority for the Ministry of Defense,” one of them sighed.
Like Wagner, Storm-Z is also accused of executing deserters or soldiers who withdraw from the front lines against orders. But Ukrainian army spokesman Serhi Cherevati said he previously doubted this. According to him, there is not nearly as much “cadaver discipline” in Storm-Z as there is in Wagner, which even executed a deserter on camera with a demolition hammer.