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“Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich” – Russian conscripts denounce “criminal orders”


In a dimly lit room, a dozen men in Russian military uniforms, their faces hidden by dark balaclavas, stood around a man reading a letter to President Vladimir Putin.

“To this day, we still haven’t received weapons and ammunition,” said the man, identifying his group as soldiers of the 580th Separate Howitzer Artillery Division from Serpukhov, a town 100 km south of Moscow – a unit which he says is now stationed in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

“We are asking that our guys be recalled from this assault 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 settle this situation.”

This call, released this month on Russian Telegram channels, was just one of a flood of new videos that have surfaced since mid-February, in which recent Russian conscripts have complained about how they are sent to fight and die on the lines front in Ukraine, using expressions such as “criminal orders” and “senseless aggression”.

Russian media, Vyorstka, calculated that within a month, recruits from at least 16 regions of Russia appeared in videos calling for Putin’s intervention.

Dozens of conscripts say they are being forced to storm Ukrainian positions as part of 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 by conscripts or their families.

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The flurry of videos signal that the problems that have plagued Russia’s invasion throughout its first year are far from resolved, and they offer further evidence that Moscow is relying on a sinister tactic of sending waves of soldiers to certain death to soften the Ukrainian positions, before sending experienced elite fighters to then gain ground.

The tactic even draws criticism from pro-Russian war bloggers who question its effectiveness and the unnecessary loss of life in what they call “meat assaults”. Recruits complained of being handed guns and running towards enemy positions and shoot. In a video, recorded on March 7, conscripts from a unit in Irkutsk, a city in Siberia, complained of being “sent to the slaughterhouse”. The video was their third public appeal to Putin.

Although the strategy of sending in waves of so-called “shock troops” is not new, it seems to have become more widespread as Russia lost some of its initial artillery advantage. Strategy was a feature of the Wagner mercenary group’s months-long assault on Bakhmut.

US officials estimate the Wagner Group alone has lost 30,000 fighters since the invasion began, with thousands killed in action 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 predict around 200,000 killed and injured on the Russian side.

A group of recruits from Kaliningrad, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, claiming to be from Unit 41698 of the 5th Motorized Brigade, said that during their first assault, six members of the unit had dead in a single trench.

“People are dying for nothing,” said a man, his face covered with a balaclava. “We are not meat. We are ready to fight with dignity, not like meat, in frontal attacks.

Another video, apparently recorded by the 1453 regiment from Perm and the Sverdlovsk region in the Urals on March 11, spoke of “undue casualties” and said that in a recent assault four were dead and 18 wounded.

The videos also highlighted Moscow’s failure to address critical and embarrassing supply issues, which led to soldiers being armed with World War II-era weapons and uniforms. Some of these complaints first surfaced last fall, notably in a first wave of videos, which began to appear shortly after Russia began partial military conscription.

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Russian officials have remained noticeably silent on recent videos, and so far there has been no indication that Putin will respond to calls. In November, during a staging of a group of women described as mothers of soldiers, Putin revealed some concern about the way mobilization and war were perceived and he seemed to allude to the first wave of videos.

“The Internet should not be completely trusted, as it is full of fake stories, deceptions 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 kind of effective warfare.”

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 the heavy losses of those last months.

“These recruits serve involuntarily. They are not trained properly 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 phone interview.

“The strength quality is worse now,” Lee said. “Earlier in the war, the big difference was that Russia had a really substantial artillery advantage, which made up for the lack of tactical skill in some units. Now that artillery advantage has been reduced.

The conscripts’ calls were echoed by the mothers and daughters of the mobilized fighters who recorded their own messages to Putin. In a video, published on March 12around 20 women appealed to Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to remove their men from the line of fire.

“Our men are being sent as meat to storm well-defended points, five people against 100 well-armed enemies,” said one woman. “They are prepared to honor their duty to the motherland based on the specialization they 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 has openly condemned the war, which the Kremlin still insists on calling a “special military operation”.

And in most videos, the recruits are careful to say that they are engaged in military service and that they want continue to fight for their country. Most of the recruits also took steps to hide their identities – a sign of their concern that any complaints could run counter to the Kremlin’s draconian wartime censorship laws, including harsh prison terms for “discrediting the army”.

Last summer, there were also cases of Russian “refuseniks” imprisoned 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 campaign that quickly called up at least 300,000 new troops to fill gaps resulting from a string of casualties. on the battlefield.

The videos released during this month’s wave bear many similarities to the initial calls, including complaints about absent commanders and unclear orders, poor communications, lack of equipment and unnecessary casualties.

The complaints have also been picked up by Russian war bloggers, some of the most vocal critics of Putin’s war direction and military command incompetence. Analysts said the new complaints about deployment as untrained stormtroopers could point to some 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 both big and small. They learned to survive and help each other in dire circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and crumbling markets. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.

Battle of Attrition: Over the past year, the war has evolved from a multi-pronged invasion that included kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely focused on a swath of territory to the east and south. Follow the 600 mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and see where the fighting has been concentrated.

One year of separated life: The invasion of Russia, coupled with Ukrainian martial law preventing men of military age from leaving the country, has forced millions of Ukrainian families to make agonizing decisions about how to balance safety, duty and love, once intertwined lives have become unrecognizable. This is what a train station full of farewells looked like last year.

Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but closer examination suggests the world is far from united on the issues raised by the war in Ukraine. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions have not stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.

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