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Russian Defense Ministry issues regulation on “cannon fodder” penal units allowing prisoners to be executed, IStories reports

The OSINT-community Frontelligence Insight has distributed the Russian Defense Ministry's regulation titled “On Z Assault Companies” in a closed mailing list, according to a report by investigative publication Important Stories (IStories). One of the community’s members who authored the report claims to be a Ukrainian army reservist. Excerpts from the report were also used in an update by the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on April 6.

As IStories notes, the Storm-Z formations have become penal units for prisoners, although originally created as elite formations. The document labels the prisoners as the “special contingent.” Their assigned tasks include carrying out assault missions in urban settings and difficult terrain.

  • Storm-Z recruits from different prisons cannot be mixed with each other or with other military personnel.
  • [A Storm-Z] contract lasts six months.
  • Only 10-15 days are allotted to prepare the prisoners for war.
  • Soldiers in the unit can leave the battlefield only in case of serious injury or death.
  • Primary medical care is provided only “to the extent of self- and mutual aid,” with medical departments consisting of a driver, an orderly and a commander.
  • The corpses of dead prisoners are to be stored in morgues separately from the corpses of Russian army servicemen.
  • Commanders of these assault squads are allowed to create a semblance of blocking units [barrier troops] and military police convoys for fighters from among the convicts. Those who decide to flee the battlefield are allowed to be shot: “[Commanders] reserve the right to use weapons to restore discipline and order in case of open disobedience,” the regulation reads.
  • Following the expiration of their contract, the “volunteers” have to be pardoned, after which they can sign a new contract or return to Russia “on their own.” Meanwhile, as earlier reported by ASTRA, prisoners are not released once their old contracts are up, and are forced to sign new contracts, keeping them at the frontline.

The first “Z assault companies” (also known as Storm-Z units) began being formed in October last year and finished this spring, according to the document. Russia’s Ministry of Defense began recruiting prisoners around February 2023, taking over from the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), which was banned from enlisting convicts.

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