Funny sometimes how little changes in this world. Today’s article concerns the modern re-imagining of the World War Two era Soviet (Russian) use of the Shtrafbat, created by Stalin’s Order No. 227.
This piece could be considered as the antithesis of my previous post, The Good Fight.
No, this time I’m not talking about Ukrainians fighting for their homes and freedom.
I’m going to discuss the Russian Army’s use of convict recruits against hard targets. It seems that Putin has resurrected the practice of using Punishment Battalions, or the old Soviet Shtrafbat, as a means of reducing losses to his regular troops. Recruiters have been going around to Russian prisons and penal colonies in an effort to round up cannon fodder. This has met with a fair amount of success, as the prisoners have been promised a commutation of their sentences and cash if they fight.
Of course, it’s well known that hundreds of thousands of Russian military age males have fled Russia to avoid conscription for the war effort. I guess not everyone buys the idea that the Russian Army is fighting to liberate Ukraine in a just war. So, the Red Army has to find the bodies somewhere.
Why not turn to the old concept of the Punishment Battalion?
It is a twisted sort of genius. You have men who are poorly armed and trained. There are unconfirmed reports of “conscripts” using the old M1891/30 Mosin rifles and the venerable M40 steel helmet, and I do not doubt that the tales of their slip-shod training are true. The “soldiers” get pointed at a target and they are told “go.” If they have any questions, they are issued cheap tablets with maps, and their advance is monitored by drones.
Apparently, these bullet-sponges get pointed at the hardest targets, and they are told that success is their only option. The Wagner Group, a Russian government mercenary proxy, enforces discipline with summary executions. In one gruesome and well-publicized case, a deserter was killed with a sledgehammer on video.
This is a win/win for Vladimir Putin. By using Wagner to form and employ these modern Punishment troops, they never enter the rolls as official members of the Russian Army. Any promises made to them are worthless if they survive. Also, this eases the strain on the Russian Goverment’s budget, as there are less mouths to feed in the prisons and camps. In addition, using the Punishment troops against difficult objectives allows the Reds to conserve their trained manpower and maintain some vestige of morale among their regular troops. Finally, as the cherry on top of this excrement sundae, the Punishment troops succeed from time to time, and they soak up lots of scarce Ukrainian munitions.
This. This is the very definition of treachery and cynicism. It is the opposite path of the true warrior, or professional soldiering.
Using the coercion of the Russian State, tens of thousands are being sent to fight and die for undisputed tyranny with the false promise of freedom. If every single one of these convict fighters dies in battle, Putin could care less.
Of course, there are downsides to this cynical approach. First, you have armed dangerous and desperate men with nothing to lose. This can backfire in many ways. Only by using the most brutal methods can these Punishment troops be brought to heel, which is a resource and morale sink. Second, by raising the profile of the Wagner Group, Putin has created a shadow army whose goals may not pair with the regular Red Army, or in the long term, with Putin himself. Finally, you are begging for a slew of war crimes with these people, especially if they are left to forage off the local population. Now, I doubt Putin cares about this, but it will harden the Ukrainian resistance and world opinion past the degree where it is now; that’s really saying something. Regular Russian troops have already left a trail of torture rooms and mass graves behind them. Heaven help the occupied locals when Punishment troops are garrisoned nearby.
If regular Russian troops have done these atrocities, imagine what the Punishment troops will do. I guess there has been a preference for convicts with violent convictions, or HIV and Hep C infected prisoners. Seriously. Does it get any worse? Probably, sadly, in time.
Stay tuned, because every time I think Putin has hit the bottom of the barrel, he cuts a new hole and falls a bit farther.
Strength to the Ukrainians. The warriors.
Defeat for the Russians. The pawns and hapless cannon fodder.
No wonder the smart military age males, or the ones with a little money, fled by any means necessary.
What a shame about Russia, a land cursed with awful government. There is so much human potential in that resource-rich land. But no. Yet another bloodthirsty tyrant holds sway, and look at what’s happened.
No surprise that the Shtrafbat has been resurrected from the darkest pages of history, to be used in a part of the world known as the Bloodlands. BTW, if you want to be sickened by human depravity, read that book.
Enough for one day. My head hurts just writing this.