“We request that our guys 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 sort out this situation.”
This petition, which came out this month on Russia’s Telegram channels, was just one of a flood of new videos that have appeared 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 “senseless beatings.”
One Russian media outlet, Vyorstka, has calculated that during the month, recruiters from at least 16 regions across Russia have appeared in videos calling for Putin’s intervention.
Numerous conscripts say they are being forced to rob Ukrainian stations as part of About the Russian invasion from the east without adequate training, ammunition or weapons. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify the videos, some of which were sent by servicemen or their families to local Russian media.
According to the angry families, the Russian conscripts were thrown into the front line unprepared
The videos show that the problems that plagued Russia’s offensive in its first year are far from resolved, and offer further evidence that Moscow is relying on the dark tactic of sending waves of troops to certain death to soften Ukraine’s position before sending in elite, seasoned fighters to gain a foothold.
The tactic has even drawn criticism from pro-Russian war bloggers who question its effectiveness and the needless loss of life in so-called “meat attacks.” Recruits have complained that they have been given weapons and told to run to enemy positions and shoot. In one video, recorded on March 7, conscripts from the unit from the Siberian city of Irkutsk complained that they were being “sent to slaughter.” The video was their third public appeal to Putin.
Although the strategy of sending in so-called “strike forces” is not new, it seems to have become more common as Russia has lost some of its initial artillery advantage. The strategy has been the hallmark of Wagner’s mercenary group’s months-long assault on Bakhmut.
US officials estimate that the Wagner group alone has lost 30,000 fighters since the offensive began, with thousands killed in action in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed last September that only 5,937 soldiers have died in the conflict so far. Western governments predict around 200,000 dead and wounded on the Russian side.
One group of recruits from Kaliningrad, Murmansk and Arkhangel, claiming to be Unit 41698 of the 5th Motorized Brigade, said six members of the unit were in the first attack. died in one well.
“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 meat, in frontal assaults.”
Another video, apparently recorded by regiment 1453 from Perm and the Sverdlovsk region in the Urals on March 11, spoke of “unreasonable losses” and said the recent attack had left four dead and 18 wounded.
The videos have also highlighted Moscow’s failure to address critical and embarrassing supply problems, which has led to soldiers being armed with World War II-era weapons and uniforms. Some of the complaints were first raised last fall, including the first videos that began to appear shortly after Russia began partial conscription.
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Russian officials have remained conspicuously silent on the recent videos, and so far there are no signs that Putin is responding to the pleas. In a meeting in November with women described as soldiers’ mothers, Putin revealed he was worried about how the mobilization and the war were perceived, and appeared to be referring to the first wave of videos.
“The Internet should not be completely trusted because it is full of various hoaxes, frauds and lies,” Putin said. “The Internet is full of information attacks, because information is only one offensive weapon in today’s world, and information attacks are only one effective method 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 was ill-prepared, and especially after heavy losses in recent months.
“These recruits are serving involuntarily. They are not trained properly and they are not properly equipped. Russia is clearly using its scarce resources to arm and equip its best units,” Lee said in a telephone interview.
“The quality of the force is worse now,” Lee said. “Earlier in the war, the big difference was that Russia had a really significant artillery advantage, which compensated for the lack of tactical skills of some units. Now the artillery advantage has decreased.”
The conscripts’ pleas have been echoed by the mothers and daughters of the mobilized fighters, who have recorded their own messages to Putin. In one video published March 12about 20 women appealed to Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to remove their husbands from the line of fire.
“Our men are sent as meat to attack well-defended positions, five men against 100 well-armed enemies,” one woman said. “They are ready to honor their duty to the country according to their training, not as assault infantry.”
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None of the videos represent any kind of protest against the war. Not a single serviceman or unit openly condemned the war, which the Kremlin still insists on calling a “special war operation.”
And in most videos, the recruits are careful to say that they are committed to military duty and want it to continue fighting for his country. Most recruits have also taken steps to conceal their identities – a sign of their concern that any complaints could run afoul of the Kremlin’s harsh wartime censorship laws, which include harsh prison sentences for “discrediting the army”.
Last summer, there were also cases where Russian “refuseniks” were imprisoned in makeshift prisons in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine and subjected to violence and abuse.
Servicemen began posting plea videos last fall after an unpopular and sudden mobilization drive that quickly called in at least 300,000 new troops to fill gaps left by a series of battlefield losses.
The videos in this month’s wave bear many similarities to the original appeals, including complaints of absent commanders and unclear orders, poor communications, lack of equipment and unnecessary casualties.
The complaints have also been echoed by Russian war bloggers, who are more vocal critics of Putin’s direction of the war and the inaction of the military leadership. Analysts said the new complaints of untrained storm troopers could point to a failure in Russia’s efforts to train thousands of troops over the winter.
A year of Russian war in Ukraine
Portraits from Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion a year ago—in ways big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other in extreme conditions, in bomb shelters and hospitals, in destroyed residential buildings and destroyed trading places. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.
The Battle of Attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front offensive that included Kiev in the north to a conflict of attrition focused largely on a large area in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and see where the fighting is concentrated.
A year after living apart: The Russian invasion, combined with Ukraine’s martial law, which prevents men of combat age from leaving the country, has forced millions of Ukrainian families to make painful decisions about how to balance security, duty and love as once-entwined lives have become unrecognizable. This is what a train station full of farewells looked like last year.
Widening global divides: President Biden has spoken of the revived Western alliance born during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests that the world is far from united on the issues raised by the war in Ukraine. There is ample evidence that Putin’s isolation has failed and that sanctions have not stopped Russia thanks to its oil and gas exports.