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The worst of the worst Russia’s Defense Ministry is recruiting prisoners whose crimes would have disqualified them from Wagner Group

Source: Verstka

The independent outlet Verstka has identified multiple people with past convictions for violent crimes serving in the Russian Defense Ministry’s Storm Z unit, which contains former inmates from Russian prisons that the ministry recruited following the model first used by the Wagner Group paramilitary cartel. These convicts-turned-soldiers include a man sentenced to 26 years in prison for murdering a 91-year-old woman and previously convicted of rape, an offense that would have disqualified him from joining Wagner Group. Meduza summarizes Verstka’s findings.

Content warning: This story contains descriptions of extreme violence.

In early May, “war correspondents” from several pro-Kremlin media outlets traveled to the occupied part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region to visit the positions of Russia’s 71st Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment. The reporters noted that the forward posts were occupied by ex-convicts serving in the regiment’s Storm-Z unit.

According to the state-owned newspaper Arguments and Facts, the unit’s deputy commander is a soldier with the call sign “Tambov” who was serving a sentence in a Mordovian prison before joining the military. (A Telegram post by “war correspondent” Andrey Guselnikov says “Tambov’s” sentence was 26 years, though this has not been independently verified.)

“Tambov” himself told the correspondents that Defense Ministry representatives came to his prison and offered inmates amnesty in exchange for serving in the war. Out of the 373 prisoners who wanted to enlist, he said, 127 were accepted into the army, including himself. “Tambov” was given a pardon, a six-month service contract, a “Defense Ministry employee salary,” and a chance to win “national awards,” he told one reporter. In a separate interview, the former convict said he wouldn’t have joined Wagner Group because its reputation is “not so good at the moment.”

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Oleg Panchurin, another deputy commander of the 71st Regiment, said he’s been satisfied with the convicts’ performance. “Their mindset is more militarized than that of draftees,” he said, adding that they have the “fog of killers in their eyes” and that they’re “more pleasant to work with.”

By analyzing social media profiles and court records, Verstka has learned that “Tambov” is a 38-year-old from Russia’s Tambov region named Pavel Alyokhin. In December 2022, Alyokhin was convicted of robbing and murdering a 91-year-old woman.

According to investigators, in January 2022, Alyokhin was working as a taxi driver. After driving the 91-year-old home from the grocery store one night, he helped her carry her things into her apartment, where she then offered him some tea. As the two chatted, Alyokhin learned that the woman lived alone and kept her savings in the apartment. He then proceeded to hit her on the head with a glass bottle before strangling her with a towel, according to court documents. After killing the woman, Alyokhin stole more than 1 million rubles ($11,870), most of which he quickly gambled away. The woman’s body was found two weeks later, and Alyokhin was arrested a week after that.

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Prosecutors sentenced Pavel Alyokhin to 26 years in prison, citing his past offenses as aggravating circumstances. Alyokhin had five convictions on his record before the murder, according to his arrest warrant. In December 2008, he was convicted of failing to pay alimony. Four months later, in March 2009, he was convicted on charges of rape and “violent acts resulting in venereal disease transmission.” The following month, in April 2009, he was convicted of robbery, another count of “violent acts resulting in venereal disease transmission,” and intentional infliction of grievous bodily harm. Then, in the summer of 2009, he was convicted of illicit firearms trafficking.

A statement on the Tambov regional investigative committee’s website indicates that in October 2008, then-24-year-old Alyokhin threatened a 36-year-old woman with a knife before beating and raping her on the territory of a concrete factory.

In 2019, Alyokhin was convicted of setting fire to the car out of “personal hostility” towards its owner.

Russian media has previously reported that Wagner Group does not accept people convicted under Articles 131 or 132 of the Russian Criminal Code, which refer to rape and sexual violence. A Wagner Group recruiting site mentions the same restrictions: “Anything related to sexual integrity is disqualifying.”

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Oleg Batishchev, a former inmate serving alongside Alyokhin in the Storm Z unit, was convicted of murder in September 2022. In January 2022, according to official records, Batishchev went to visit a former girlfriend at her home. After getting into a fight with the woman’s new boyfriend, Batishchev began hitting him, dealing a total of 21 strikes using his hands, his feet, and a wooden stool. In court, his ex-girlfriend testified that she broke up with him because he had physically assaulted her multiple times while intoxicated.

Olga Romanova, the head of the NGO Russia Behind Bars, told Verstka that since the Russian Defense Ministry began recruiting prison inmates on February 1, nearly 15,000 prisoners have enlisted.

On June 13, the Russian State Duma approved a bill that would grant amnesty to volunteer soldiers who sign contracts with the Defense Ministry during mobilization or periods of martial law. Even under this legislation, however, neither Batishchev nor Alyokhin would qualify for pardons, because it would apply only to minor and medium offenses.

Another bill whose first reading was approved by lawmakers in late May would allow the Defense Ministry to draft prisoners convicted of grave crimes. But this legislation, too, would exclude people convicted of sexual crimes, terrorism, state treason, and certain other crimes.

In November 2022, Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill allowing for the mobilization citizens with unexpunged convictions for grave crimes, with the exception of rapes of minors, terrorism, banditry, espionage, and state treason.

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Story by Verstka

Translation by Sam Breazeale

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