NewsRussia's "Gladiator" unit: Front-line convicts recruited for Ukraine warfare, claims Ukrainian resistance

Russia's "Gladiator" unit: Front-line convicts recruited for Ukraine warfare, claims Ukrainian resistance

Training of Russian special forces
Training of Russian special forces
Images source: © Getty Images | 2023 Anadolu Agency

2:33 AM EST, February 4, 2024, updated: 4:23 AM EST, March 7, 2024

The Ukrainians allege that the semi-covert "Gladiator" battalion is comprised of several hundred convicts with substantial front-line experience.

The leader of this formation is speculated to be an ex-policeman, previously convicted of ghastly murder. Individuals selected for the unit exhibit robust physical fitness, prior experience in law enforcement, and significant combat exposure.

Former mercenaries from the Wagner Group and Kadyrovites from the Achmat unit are purported to be responsible for the training of the "Gladiator" soldiers.

Convicts Recruited to Fight "To the Death"

Between 2022 and 2023, Russian inmates serving sentences in prisons were recruited for war by the Wagner Group. Freedom was promised as a reward for their participation in battles, a scheme condoned by Putin through his signing of pardons. As per American estimates, the Wagner Group had 50,000 members by the end of 2022, out of which 40,000 were sourced from Russian penal colonies.

In September of the previous year, several weeks after the demise of the Wagner Group's leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in a plane crash, inmates began to be inducted into novel assault units called Storm-V (contrasting with the prior Storm-Z). This unit operates under entirely new rules. Convicts are no longer granted pardons within a few months. Instead, they are expected to fight on terms akin to contract soldiers or individuals who were mobilized for the war. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported this after examining social media group discussions intended for the families of prisoner-soldiers.

Reason for the Change in Rules

In the perspective of opposition media outlets, the revamp of service rules for convicts likely stems from two causes. The first is the wave of crimes committed by former pardoned mercenaries. The second reason is the potential fear of societal friction arising from the favored status of inmates compared to other soldier categories, particularly reservists mobilized for war.

Sources: National Resistance Center, BBC

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