Cops & Robbers
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In 2022, a Russian court sentenced Vladislav Kanyus to 17 years in jail for “torturing, suffocating and stabbing” his girlfriend. Today, following a pardon for his crimes by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kanyus is fighting for Russia in Ukraine, reported the Washington Post.
A similar fate unfolded for Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, an ex-cop who received a 20-year prison sentence for conspiring to murder Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent journalist. Putin pardoned Khadzhikurbanov. He also joined the Russian army’s campaign in Ukraine, the New York Times wrote.
As the fighting between the two former Soviet republics grows more intense – even as Al Jazeera explained, strategically it remains a stalemate – Kanyus and Khadzhikurbanov illustrate the lengths that Putin will go to keep his war machine running.
“Russia’s military has institutionalized the recruitment of convicts into its ranks as it seeks to shore up its numbers for the war in Ukraine,” according to the Moscow Times.
The Wagner Group, the Russian private military contractor that was an arm of the Kremlin, allowed convicts to join these so-called “Storm-Z” squads comprised of malefactors-cum-soldiers.
That’s not the only precedent in Russian history for this practice. The battalions echo the so-called “punishment battalions” that Soviet leader Josef Stalin created in the 1940s in the fight against Nazism in World War II, explained Reuters. These battalions were comprised of soldiers who panicked or left their posts in other units.
With enthusiasm to volunteer diminishing, Ukraine also has freed convicts who agree to fight, and employed some harsh tactics against those unwilling to join up, RFE/RL noted. But Russia might have deployed as many as 100,000 killers and other criminals to fight Ukrainians resisting Putin’s attempt to absorb their nation into Mother Russia, reported Business Insider.
At the same time, Ukrainian police officers are taking up the fight, waging some of the riskiest battles as part of a special national police assault brigade called Lyut (or “Fury”), created last year, the Washington Post wrote.
These units have made it easier for Russian commanders to throw wave after wave of cannon fodder against Ukraine’s defenders, as Russia lobs artillery shells and fires missiles at Kyiv and other important targets.
In Avdiivka to the northwest of Russian-occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, for example, Ukrainian forces have been eliminating “truckloads” of Russian troops at a time when the Russians seek to push their front forward and occupy more Ukrainian land, noted Forbes.
Conscripting criminals might also illustrate how Russia is facing difficulties recruiting volunteers to realize Putin’s vision of regaining former Soviet and Russian imperial territory in order to assert Russian influence against Europe and the US. As the Kyiv Post wrote, in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory of Luhansk, few young men are stepping forward to enter the meat grinder that Russia has set up in their backyards.
When soldiers have nothing to lose, the war might already be lost.