Russian Troops Deserted Over Ukraine Orders
In the earliest stages of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, hundreds of Russian soldiers refused to follow orders. We must pray that more soldiers choose to do the right thing and refuse to fight in Ukraine.
From The Wall Street Journal. Hundreds of Russian soldiers have escaped the fighting in Ukraine or refused to take part during the early stages of the war, according to military decrees viewed by The Wall Street Journal as well as accused soldiers and lawyers defending them.
Military analysts and Ukrainian officials say there have been many more.
Russia’s army stumbled badly early in its invasion of Ukraine and suffered thousands of casualties and the loss of an estimated quarter of its deployed military hardware, a senior Pentagon official said in April. Desertions and insubordination among soldiers, Interior Ministry troops and members of the National Guard are compounding the problem.
The desertions place Russian authorities in a bind over how to punish those who refuse to serve without drawing more attention to the issue, defense experts said. The Russian military is short on manpower and seeking recruits to help turn the tide in Ukraine.
Penalties have so far been largely limited to formal dismissals from service. Because Russia hasn’t declared war on Ukraine, there also are few legal grounds for criminal charges against those who refuse to serve abroad, according to a lawyer and former military prosecutor’s assistant who is defending soldiers fired for insubordination.
“So many people don’t want to fight,” said Mikhail Benyash, a Russian lawyer representing a dozen members of the National Guard, a domestic military force that quashes protests in Russia. Mr. Benyash is assisting soldiers appealing their dismissals after they refused orders to enter Ukraine in February, according to National Guard documents. Members of the guard were sent into Ukraine to patrol streets and suppress dissent in occupied areas….
By the book
Mr. Benyash, the lawyer, said that within several days of publishing a March 24 post about his National Guard cases, more than 1,000 service members and employees of the Interior Ministry, which oversees policing in Russia, reached out for legal assistance. Many had defied orders to enter Ukraine for combat or to suppress protests in towns occupied by Russian forces, he said.
On March 17, Russian human-rights group Agora launched a Telegram channel where service members and their relatives could seek legal help for refusing orders. Pavel Chikov, the group’s director, said 721 members of the army and security forces responded over the following 10 days.
A March 4 military decree signed by a Russian base commander ordered the dismissals of several hundred army servicemen who refused orders while on duty near the Ukraine border, according to a copy of the document viewed by the Journal. It is unclear if the ex-soldiers faced further penalties….
Punishment for refusing orders in what Mr. Putin calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine has so far been limited to firing soldiers without paying back wages or by stripping them of special mortgage plans and other service benefits, said Pavel Luzin, a Moscow-based defense expert….
‘Bring your lawyers’
Transcripts from two audio files purportedly recorded by soldiers and published April 22 by Russian independent outlet Mediazona documented instances of soldiers who refused orders.
“You can’t not go,” a base commander said in a recording heard by the Journal. “If you don’t go there, you’ll spend 15 years stamping across a [prison] courtyard.”
The soldier said he had talked to lawyers who said he didn’t risk prison for refusing to fight in Ukraine.
“Bring your lawyers here,” the commander replied. “We’ll have a chat with them.”
Western intelligence agencies say there is broad evidence of chaos and disorder among Russian forces in Ukraine….
Lawyers defending Russian deserters, as well as journalists reporting about the cases, are endangered. On April 13, Mr. Benyash was charged with “discrediting Russia’s armed forces” for statements he made in a YouTube video published in the first days of the war, according to documents viewed by the Journal. The case has since been dropped.
On the same day Mr. Benyash was charged, Mikhail Afanasyev, a journalist who had earlier published an article about 11 National Guardsmen in the Khakassia region of Siberia who refused orders to enter Ukraine, was arrested. He was charged with spreading “fake news” about the Russian military….
How are you praying for Ukraine and Russia during this time? Share your thoughts and prayers below.
(Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal. Photo Credit: Getty Images)
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