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UK intel: Russia shifts from short to extended prison conscription

Russia ceased polemical short term recruitment of prisoners for the military in September 2023, transitioning to offering standardized long term conscription contracts until mobilization ends, per UK intelligence.
Soldiers of Russia’s the Storm Z units, formed of former convicts. Screenshot via RFE/RL

Russia ended short-term prison military recruitment deals in September 2023 amid public criticism and moved to regularized, longer-term conscription agreements, according to the UK Defense Ministry’s intelligence update.

Throughout the ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been extensively using recruited convicts in assault units, trying to break through Ukrainian defense lines.

The ministry wrote:

  • According to an investigation by the BBC Russian Service, the Russian military ceased recruiting prisoners on short-term contracts from September 2023. Prisoners are now offered standardised (longer term) military service contracts, which entail agreeing to service in the military at least until the termination of the September 2022 partial mobilisation order.
  • Short-term convict contracts had prompted some public controversy in Russia, particularly over returnees re-offending and the short tours of prisoners in comparison to indefinitely mobilised reservists.
  • It is highly likely that short-term prisoner recruitment was a response to immediate military recruitment pressures earlier in the conflict. In 2023, the Russian state highly likely turned to regularised contract recruitment as the primary source of new military personnel.

Earlier, the British Defense Ministry noted that Russia continued relying on Shtorm-Z units manned with convicts for Ukraine offenses, underscoring their low priority for support and orders to attack.

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