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VLADIMIR Putin has ordered Russian soldiers caught drinking in Ukraine to face certain death in “expendable” frontline battalions named “Storm Z” suicide squads.
Troops caught smelling of booze or being bolshy with commanders are being forced to join convicts in the new punishment units.
One soldier has told how just 15 members of one of the 120-strong units returned from a suicidal clash with Ukrainian fighters.
Multiple sources – including five soldiers who survived the bloodbath – have revealed how Storm Z troops are treated “just like meat” by Kremlin military chiefs loyal to Putin.
The existence of the units echoes “punishment battalions” created by Josef Stalin during Russia’s most desperate battles with Nazi Germany during World War II.
One fighter from Army Unit 40318 has also revealed that a commander ordered him not to provide medical treatment for wounded Storm Z fighters.
Claiming it showed how much less important the lives of Storm Z fighters are compared to ordinary troops.
Another told how just 15 men from 120 in his unit were killed or wounded near the besieged Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in June.
Convicts including former Wagner Group troops form the core of the expendable squads but regular soldiers are now joining them if they fall out of line.
The unidentified soldier from Unit 40318 said: “If the commandants catch anyone with the smell of alcohol on their breath, then they immediately send them to the Storm squads.”
The squads are being deployed as expendable infantry, according to Conflict Intelligence Team – an independent organisation monitoring the war.
The group said: “The Storm fighters are just sent to the most dangerous parts of the front, in defence and in attack.”
The Russian defence ministry has never acknowledged creating the unofficial Storm Z units and did not respond to a request for comment.
But the first reports of their existence came in April this year when the Institute for the Study of War, a US research group, found alleged leaked Russian military reports on the brutal squads.
It’s never been said how they’re formed or the number of deaths they have but some anonymous ex-soldiers have come forward to speak about their existence.
The squads are often a mixture of criminals who are fighting to get a pardon and be released from prison and regular soldiers who are being punished for poor discipline.
They’re seen as useful as the men can be sent to defend or attack on the frontlines without Russia fearing important deaths.
Putin mentioned letting criminals fight last Friday at a TV meeting.
The president spoke about two criminals who died at war saying: “They gave their lives for the motherland and have fully absolved themselves of their guilt.”
Adding that the convicts’ families would now get help for their service.
Storm Z is an unofficial term used by Russian troops, combining the term for assault troops with the letter Z, a symbol used a lot since the invasion of Ukraine.
Artyom Shchikin, a 29-year-old from central Russia, was serving a two-year sentence for robbery when defence ministry recruiters came to his jail asking if inmates wanted fight or their freedom in Ukraine, according to court records and his relatives.
He signed up because he was promised a clean criminal record and money each month for fighting.
During a siege in northern Ukraine Shchikin and his troop were ambushed and three soldiers died and one had his hand torn off.
Shchikin hasn’t been heard from since June.
So far, three Storm Z fighters have said they were offered wages of about 200,000 roubles ($2,000) per month, but were only paid around half.
One group of Storm Z fighters refused an order to go back to the frontline after being treated so badly, and recorded a video complaining.
A soldier can be heard saying: “On the frontline, where we’ve been, we did not get deliveries of ammunition.
“We did not get water or food.
“The injured were not taken away: still now the dead are rotting.
“We’re given dreadful orders that are not even worth carrying out.
“We refuse to continue carrying out combat missions.”
Russian officials made no comment on the incident when questioned.
This comes after one in four Russians fighting in Ukraine were found to be convicts from jail — including killers.
UK military expert Ian Stubbs made the revelation as the first anniversary of the conflict looms next month.
But he warned tyrant Vladimir Putin is losing control of the mercenary Wagner Group warlord commanding the convicts.
Reports also suggested Putin has got sex offenders to be a part of the “suicide squads” and is facing an incredibly high number of deaths on the frontline.