Late last summer, a plot of land on the edge of a small farming community in southern Russia began to fill with scores of newly dug graves of fighters killed in Ukraine. The resting places were adorned with simple wooden crosses and brightly coloured wreaths that bore the insignia of Russia’s Wagner Group – a feared and secretive private army.
There were around 200 graves at the site on the outskirts of Bakinskaya village in Krasnodar region when Reuters visited in late January. The news agency matched the names of at least 39 of the dead here and at three other nearby cemeteries to Russian court records, publicly available databases and social media accounts. Reuters also spoke to family, friends and lawyers of some of the dead.
Many of the men buried at Bakinskaya were convicts who were recruited by Wagner last year after its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, promised a pardon if prisoners survived six months at the front, this reporting showed. They included a contract killer, murderers, career criminals and people with alcohol problems.
And if you’re sufficiently ignorant, politically docile, you might call the residents of this graveyard…”heroes”.
2 thoughts on “Graveyard for Russian Mercenaries”
Wagner Group’s Use of Convicts in Ukraine Echoes Stalinist Tactics https://www.voanews.com/a/wagner-group-s-use-of-convicts-in-ukraine-echoes-stalinist-tactics/6932903.html
“The casualty rates for the convicts are extraordinarily high,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in an interview Friday with VOA. “As a matter of fact, what we think is that 90% of their casualties are convicts.”
As Russia has struggled to hold territory in Ukraine, U.S. officials believe the Kremlin is increasingly relying on the Wagner Group to recruit thousands of prisoners for the war’s front lines.
According to the estimates by U.S. intelligence, the Russian private military company run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch and confidant of President Vladimir Putin, currently has 50,000 troops in Ukraine, 40,000 of whom are Russian convicts. https://www.voanews.com/a/wagner-group-s-use-of-convicts-in-ukraine-echoes-stalinist-tactics/6932903.html
Shtrafbats (Russian: штрафбат, штрафной батальон) were Soviet penal battalions that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II.
The shtrafbats were greatly increased in number by Joseph Stalin in July 1942 via Order No. 227 (Директива Ставки ВГК №227). Order No. 227 was a desperate effort to re-instill discipline after the panicked routs of the first year of combat with Germany. The order—popularized as the “Not one step back!” (Ни шагу назад!, Ni shagu nazad!) Order—introduced severe punishments, including summary execution, for unauthorized retreats.
In his order, Stalin also mentioned Hitler’s successful use of penal battalions (known as Strafbataillon) as a means to ensure obedience among regular Wehrmacht units.
The total number of people convicted to penal units from September 1942 to May 1945 was 422,700. Very few of them were known to have survived the war.
During the war, Soviet penal units were widely employed. Some units achieved considerable fame. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shtrafbat
Deadly and disposable: Wagner’s brutal tactics in Ukraine revealed by intelligence report (CNN 1/26/23) https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/23/europe/russia-wagner-tactics-report-ukraine-intl/index.html
Wagner Group fighters have become the disposable infantry of the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, but a Ukrainian military intelligence document obtained by CNN sets out how effective they have been around the city of Bakhmut – and how difficult they are to fight against.
The Ukrainian report – dated December 2022 – concludes that Wagner represents a unique threat at close quarters, even while suffering extraordinary casualties. “The deaths of thousands of Wagner soldiers do not matter to Russian society,” the report asserts.
“Assault groups do not withdraw without a command… Unauthorized withdrawal of a team or without being wounded is punishable by execution on the spot.”
Convicts – tens of thousands of whom have been recruited by Wagner – frequently form the first wave in an attack and take the heaviest casualties – as high as 80% according to Ukrainian officials.
More experienced fighters, with thermal imagery and night-vision equipment, follow.