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Russia planned Storm-Z to be elite units, they became penal battalions - UK intelligence

Russia planned Storm-Z to be elite units, they became penal battalions - UK intelligence British intelligence about Russian Storm-Z units (Getty Images)
Author: Maria Kholina

Russia's creation of the Storm-Z units appears to have been aimed at forming elite forces to seize tactical initiative on the Ukrainian front. However, these units have effectively turned into penal battalions populated with convicts, according to the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense.

These company-sized groups were likely first fielded in 2022 during the war with Ukraine.

Currently, Russia largely continues to rely on specially designated Shtorm-Z units for local offensive operations in Ukraine.

"There is a realistic possibility that Russia originally envisioned them as relatively elite organizations which could seize the tactical initiative," says the UK Ministry of Defense.

However, since at least spring 2023, Shtorm-Z has effectively become penal battalions, manned with convicts and regular troops on disciplinary charges.

Multiple accounts suggest the units are given the lowest priority for logistical and medical support, while repeatedly being ordered to attack.

The British defense department also says that the existence of Shtorm-Z highlights the extreme difficulty Russia has in generating combat infantry capable of conducting effective offensive operations.

Reuters previously reported on the use of penal battalions in the Russian military. Journalists note that sending soldiers to the Storm-Z units, partially comprised of former prisoners, has become a method of punishment for Russian soldiers who have transgressed while participating in the war against Ukraine.