Morale: Russian Soldiers Refuse Death in Ukraine


June 9, 2024: There are increasing incidents of Russian officers shooting their own troops for not advancing against the enemy, or trying to flee when the Ukrainians attack or employ missiles or armed UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). The Russian government did not release any information on this nor has there been much coverage in Russian electronic or print media, and most of the details come from Russian social media. This usually consists of videos taken covertly by other soldiers, emails or video emails released by friends or family. No one knows exactly how many Russian soldiers have been shot dead by their officers for refusing to fight or for trying to walk away from the fighting. What is surprising to many westerners is that it is nothing new for the Russian army. There was a lot of it during World War II and even a few incidents when the Russian army was in Afghanistan during the 1980s and Chechnya in the 1990s.

The current war in Ukraine is not popular inside Russia and that has made it difficult for the military to recruit new troops to fight there. Russia conscripts a quarter million young Russian men each year for one year of conscript service. The law stipulates that conscripts cannot be sent to a combat zone outside Russia. Putin tried to get around this by declaring Ukraine was actually part of Russia and Russian troops were there to put down an insurrection. Most conscripts, and especially their parents, did not go along with this and the government ceased sending conscripts to Ukraine.

This forced the government to spend a lot more money to get more nominally volunteer contract soldiers by forcing men with prior military service, and many with none, into the military as better paid contract soldiers. This worked initially until reports of the high casualty rates of contract soldiers in Ukraine became widely known. This led to more illegal schemes to obtain volunteers. This included forcing or deceiving conscripts into signing contracts to serve longer as contract soldiers.

Western sanctions on Russia caused an economic recession and good civilian jobs were hard to find. Pay for contract soldiers was competitive with similar jobs, which was not a bad deal when there was not a war going on in Ukraine. In 2023 Russia recruited at least 250,000 contract soldiers. Most of those got only a few weeks of training and so were generally useless in combat. Wagner Group was not restricted in how it recruited and it was able to recruit many convicts from prison. The deal was that if they survived their six month contract, they would be free to leave and would also get a pardon and not return to prison.

The Defense Ministry later tried this but had little success as Wagner Group had few restrictions on how it handled convict contract soldiers. If any of these men disobeyed orders or faltered in combat, they could be killed on the spot. That was standard practice in the Russian military during World War II and was enforced by special NKVD secret police units and Zampolit political officers assigned to commanders of units’ company or larger on up. Zampolits could execute reluctant soldiers or commanders. Wagner Force is the only military organization in Russian that is officially allowed to use this older but now officially forbidden, leadership style. It’s common knowledge that Wager Group operates this way and anyone joining knows it. Some Russians have called for the military to adopt the old-school disciplinary procedures and it now appears this is unofficially happening. Most Russians do not want that, or the Wagner Group, the war in Ukraine or Vladimir Putin. This has led to more popular opposition to the war and Putin and more of the opposition are resorting to violence because nothing else seems to work.

Putin stays in power by oppressing opposition. That comes at a visible cost. Many Russians are getting out of Russia to avoid military service or unemployment or simply because of Putin’s autocratic rules. Putin’s response was to declare it illegal to leave Russia without official permission. Many are leaving despite the restrictions; via whatever way they can come up with. Putin always admired the Soviet Union and now he is turning Russia back into a totalitarian police state. Those who back Putin believe Russia will eventually prevail in Ukraine, even if it takes decades. Most Russians, Ukrainians and NATO members disagree and now consider Russia a threat to everyone.




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