Russian commander using captive punishment to clamp down poor discipline and alcohol abuse

The Russian military is using “improvised cells” and medieval punishment techniques to clamp down on poor discipline and alcohol abuse, according to a new assessment.

In the past few months, Russian commanders “have likely started punishing breaches in discipline by detaining the offending troops in ‘Zindans,'” the British Defense Ministry said on Sunday. The government department described the “Zindans” as “improvised cells consisting of holes in the ground covered with a metal grille.”

Reports show “Zindans” being used to punish soldiers for drunkenness or looking to end their military contracts, the defense ministry wrote on Twitter. The “Zindans” were previously used in parts of the former Russian empire, with photographs showing the “Zindans” in use in parts of central Asia in the early 20th century, with some accounts suggesting their use in previous centuries.

Such tactics are a marked change from the earlier stages of the all-out war in Ukraine, the U.K. Government said. The initial period saw “a relatively light touch in enforcing discipline” – an attitude that changed in the fall of 2022.

At that point, Russian forces were retreating from parts of Ukrainian territory captured in the first months of the war. Throughout Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Western sources have reported morale and discipline issues among Russia’s ranks.

Since the end part of 2022, however, Russian commanders have introduced “multiple increasingly draconian initiatives to improve discipline in the force,” the British Defense Ministry said. This is seen particularly since General Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of General Staff, took control of Moscow’s military operations in Ukraine, it added.

Gerasimov took up the position in mid-January amid a reshuffle of Moscow’s top military officials. His appointment was likely intended to “improve Russian command and control” at the start of the new year, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank wrote on January 11.

However, Gerasimov would likely take over a “disorganized command structure plagued by endemic, persistent, and self-reinforcing failures that he largely set into motion in his initial role before the invasion of Ukraine,” the ISW predicted at the time.

Reports have circulated online this month of Russian soldiers appearing to face imprisonment in such “Zindans.” One report, published by the ASTRA Telegram account, which describes itself as an independent Russian outlet, allegedly showed soldiers from Russia’s southwestern Saratov region placed in a “Zindan” for alcohol consumption. The fighters are reported as being from the 99th regiment’s reconnaissance forces.

“Today there was a misunderstanding, and we were put in a pit,” one soldier says in the video, according to a translation of the ASTRA post.

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