“We ask that our boys be recalled from this attack as they do not have the necessary training or experience,” the man pleaded, his voice artificially distorted to protect his identity. “Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich, we ask you to resolve this situation.”
This profession, which appeared this month on Russian Telegram channels, was just one of several new videos that have surfaced since mid-February, in which recent Russian conscripts have complained about how they are being sent to fight and die on the front lines in Ukraine, using phrases such as “criminal orders and “pointless attacks”.
A Russian media outlet, Vyorstka, calculated that in a month, recruits from at least 16 regions across Russia have appeared in videos calling for Putin’s intervention.
Dozens of conscripts say they are being forced to storm Ukrainian positions as part of the Russian offensive in the east, without sufficient training, ammunition or weapons. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify the videos, some of which were sent to local Russian media outlets by conscripts or their families.
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The deluge of videos indicates that the problems that plagued the Russian invasion during its first year are far from being resolved, and they provide further evidence that Moscow is relying on a gritty tactic to send waves of soldiers to certain death to attack Ukrainian positions. to mitigate, ahead of elite, send experienced fighters and then gain ground.
The tactic has even drawn criticism from pro-Russian war bloggers who question its effectiveness and senseless loss of life in what they call “meat attacks.” Recruits have been complaining about being given guns and having to run into enemy positions and shoot. In a video recorded on March 7, conscripts from a unit from Irkutsk, a city in Siberia, complained that they were “being sent to the slaughter”. The video was their third public appeal to Putin.
While the strategy of sending in waves of so-called “shock troops” is not new, it seems to be more common now that Russia has lost some of its initial artillery advantage. The strategy has been a hallmark of the Wagner mercenary group’s months-long assault on Bakhmut.
US officials estimate that the Wagner group alone has lost 30,000 fighters since the invasion began, with thousands killed in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the Russian defense ministry claimed last September that only 5,937 soldiers had been killed in the conflict so far. Western governments estimate about 200,000 dead and wounded on the Russian side.
A group of recruits from Kaliningrad, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, claiming to be Unit 41698 of the 5th Motorized Brigade, said that six members of the unit on their first attack died in a single trench.
“People die for nothing,” said one man, his face covered by a balaclava. “We are not meat. We are ready to fight with dignity, not like flesh, in frontal assaults.”
Another video, apparently recorded by Regiment 1453 from Perm and the Sverdlovsk region in the Urals on March 11, spoke of “unjustified losses” and said four were killed and 18 wounded in a recent attack.
The videos have also highlighted Moscow’s failure to address critical and embarrassing supply problems that have led to soldiers being armed with rifles and World War II uniforms. Some of those complaints first surfaced last fall, including in a first wave of videos that began appearing shortly after Russia began a partial military draft.
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Russian officials have remained remarkably quiet about the recent videos, and so far there is no sign that Putin will respond to the calls. In November, during a staged meeting with a group of women described as mothers of soldiers, Putin expressed some concern about how the mobilization and the war were perceived and seemed to allude to the first wave of videos.
“One should not trust the internet completely because it is full of fake stories, deceit and lies,” Putin said. “The internet is full of information attacks because information is just another offensive weapon in the modern world, and information attacks are just another effective form of combat.”
Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in New York, said it was not surprising to see such problems after a year of war for which Russia had been ill-prepared, and especially after the heavy losses of recent months.
“These recruits serve involuntarily. They are not properly trained and do not have the right equipment. Russia is clearly using its scarce resources to arm and equip its best units,” Lee said in a telephone interview.
“The quality of the power is worse now,” Lee said. “Earlier in the war, the big difference was that Russia had a really substantial artillery advantage, which compensated for a lack of tactical competence in some units. Now that artillery advantage has been reduced.
The conscripts’ calls were echoed by mothers and daughters of mobilized fighters who recorded their own messages to Putin. In one video published on March 12about 20 women appealed to Putin and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to get their men out of the line of fire.
“Our men are sent like flesh to storm well-defended points, five men against 100 well-armed enemies,” said one woman. “They are ready to honor their duty to the motherland according to the specialization they have trained for, not as assault infantry.”
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None of the videos represent any form of protest against the war. Not a single conscript or unit openly condemned the war, which the Kremlin still calls a “special military operation.”
And in most of the videos, the recruits gently say they are committed to military service and want it keep fighting for their country. Most of the recruits have also taken steps to hide their identities – a sign of concern that any complaint could violate the Kremlin’s draconian war censorship laws, which include harsh jail terms for “discrediting the military”.
Last summer there were also cases of Russian “refuseniks” being locked up in makeshift prisons in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine and subjected to violence and abuse.
Conscripts began posting call-up videos last fall, following an unpopular and sudden mobilization drive that quickly called up at least 300,000 fresh soldiers to fill the gaps left by a series of battlefield losses.
The videos released in this month’s wave bear many similarities to the initial calls, including complaints about absent commanders and unclear orders, poor communication, lack of equipment and unnecessary casualties.
The complaints were also echoed by Russian war bloggers, some of the more outspoken critics of the direction of Putin’s war and the military command’s ineptitude. Analysts said the new complaints about being deployed as untrained stormtroopers could point to a failure in Russia’s efforts to train thousands of soldiers over the winter.
A year of the Russian war in Ukraine
Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion a year ago – in both big and small ways. They have learned to survive and support each other in extreme conditions, in bomb shelters and hospitals, devastated apartment complexes and devastated marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.
Attrition: Over the past year, the war has moved from a multi-front invasion, including Kiev in the north, to an attrition conflict largely centered along a vast area in the east and south. Trace the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian troops and see where the fighting is concentrated.
Living separately for a year: The Russian invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law that prevents men of fighting age from leaving the country, has forced millions of Ukrainian families to make painful decisions about how to balance security, duty and love, shattering lives that were once intertwined. were intertwined, have become unrecognizable. This is what a train station full of farewells looked like last year.
Deepening the global division: President Biden has proclaimed the strengthened Western alliance forged during the war a “global coalition,” but a closer look reveals that the world is far from united on issues raised by the war in Ukraine. There is ample evidence that the attempt to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions have not stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.