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UK intel: Russia depends on convicts in Ukraine offensives

Russia continues relying on Shtorm-Z units manned with convicts for Ukraine offenses, underscoring their low priority for support and orders to attack, according to UK intelligence.
UK intel: Russia depends on convicts in Ukraine offensives

UK Defense Ministry’s 24 October intelligence update illustrates Russia’s ongoing reliance on Shtorm-Z units for Ukraine offenses, detailing their transition from elite units to penal battalions “manned with convicts and regular troops on disciplinary charges,” underscoring the logistical and support challenges they face.

The ministry tweeted:

  • Russia largely continues to rely on specially designated ‘Shtorm-Z’ units for local offensive operations in Ukraine. These company-sized groups were likely first fielded in 2022. There is a realistic possibility that Russia originally envisioned them as relatively elite organisations which could seize the tactical initiative.
  • However, since at least spring 2023, Shtorm-Z have 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.
  • Russian troops have often conducted an effective defence. However, the existence of Shtorm-Z highlights the extreme difficulty Russia has in generating combat infantry capable of conducting effective offensive operations.

Russia’s Wagner Group private military company, which used to exist under the umbrella of the Russian military, heavily relied on convict soldiers during its assaults to capture Donetsk’s Bakhmut in 2022, largely employing the tactics of the so-called “meat wave” attacks.

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