Storm-Z units: All you need to know about Vladimir Putin’s ‘suicide squad’

In a striking shift from his previous stance against supporting individuals involved in gruesome acts, Russian president Vladimir Putin has reportedly revived a Stalin-era practice. This involves deploying convicted criminals, including murderers and even cannibals, to the front lines in Ukraine as part of “suicide squads” known as “Storm-Z” units. These squads, comprising tens of thousands of prisoners, are tasked with executing highly dangerous, infantry-led frontal assaults in the most perilous battlefield areas.
As per a Newsweek report, despite the Kremlin’s silence on the creation of these units and the total number of prisoners recruited, it’s estimated that over 100,000 convicts have been offered presidential pardons in exchange for six months of service in Ukraine.Approximately half of them are now free in Russia. The recruits include individuals past retirement age, primarily from Russia’s ethnic minority republics, highlighting the perceived expendability of these soldiers.
Among the pardoned are individuals convicted of heinous crimes, including cannibalism, murder, rape, and even ritualistic killings. For instance, Nikolai Ogolobyak, a confessed member of a Satanist sect, was pardoned after serving with a Storm-Z unit. He had been sentenced for the ritualistic murder of four teenagers. Similarly, Denis Gorin, a convicted murderer who cannibalized one of his victims, and Artem Buchin, convicted of rape and murder, were also pardoned following their service in Ukraine, the Newsweek report said.
The practice of recruiting from penal colonies began amidst apparent manpower shortages, allowing Russia to bolster its forces without mobilizing its young, urban population, which could lead to political backlash. However, this approach has raised concerns within Russia and internationally, particularly regarding the potential for high reoffending rates among these pardoned criminals.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, defended the practice, stating that these convicts atone for their crimes on the battlefield. Putin himself acknowledged the deployment of convicts, asserting that those who died in service had absolved themselves of their guilt.
This strategy, reminiscent of Soviet-era tactics, reflects a disregard for casualties and leverages Russia’s large population. It also aims to minimize domestic unrest that a mass mobilization might provoke, especially ahead of the 2024 presidential elections. However, the return of these criminals to society poses a significant concern for ordinary Russians.
Putin set for 4th presidential term
Russian lawmakers have designated March 17 as the date for the 2024 presidential election, potentially paving the way for Vladimir Putin to pursue a fifth term as president. This decision was unanimously agreed upon by the Federation Council, Russia’s upper parliamentary house.
Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the chamber, commented, “In essence, this decision marks the start of the election campaign.”
While Putin, aged 71, has not yet confirmed his candidacy for the upcoming election, expectations are high that he will announce his intention to run, especially following the setting of the election date. The Central Election Commission of Russia is scheduled to convene on Friday to discuss the presidential campaign.
(With inputs from agencies)

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