CNN - Tim Lister - NOV 17, 2022
Russia’s first mobilization since World War II may be complete, but the deployment of thousands of soldiers to the battlefields of Ukraine is generating dissent and protest on the front lines – and back home.
With the Russian government touting that at least 50,000 of the recently drafted are now in Ukraine, a long list of complaints is emerging: Lack of leadership from mid-ranking officers, tactics that lead to heavy casualties, non-existent training, promised payments not received.
There are also logistical difficulties, as reported by soldiers, their families and Russian military bloggers: Insufficient uniforms, poor food, a lack of medical supplies.
And there are discipline issues, with some families complaining their men face charges of desertion and are being held in basements in occupied Ukrainian territory.
The Astra Telegram channel – a project of independent Russian journalists – reported that 300 mobilized Russians are being held in a basement in Zaitsevo in the Luhansk region for refusing to return to the front line, quoting their relatives.
One woman said her husband had told her: “New people are constantly brought in. They are in a large basement in the House of Culture in Zaitsevo. They feed them once a day: one dry ration to share between 5-6 people. They constantly threaten them.”
Astra reported it had the names of 42 people of those detained. It also cited relatives in identifying seven basements or detention facilities in Luhansk and Donetsk for soldiers.
It quoted the wife of one detained soldier as saying: “My husband and 80 other people are sitting in the basement; they were stripped naked in order to confiscate their phones, but one person, fortunately, hid the phone.”
Astra said the men were arrested after retreating from the town of Lyman and then refusing to return to the line of fire.
CNN is unable to verify the existence or location of detention centers for men refusing to fight.
Military training of Russians called up for military service under the country's partial mobilization is seen in Rostov, Russia on October 21, 2022. - Arkady Budnitsky/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
There are widespread complaints about incompetent or non-existent leadership.
Russian military bloggers – some of whom have hundreds of thousands of followers – have been bitterly critical of senior officers.
“Do we have generals capable of replacing those who have been sacked? Does anyone know one? I don’t,” asked Vladen Tatarskiy, who has more than half-a-million subscribers. “One idiot is rotated for another. One fails, another fails, the third seems more harmless.”
In a bold note of dissent, soldiers of the 155th Brigade of the Russian Pacific Fleet Marines wrote to their regional governor saying they’d been thrown into an “incomprehensible battle” in the Donetsk region.
“As a result of the ‘carefully’ planned offensive by the ‘great commanders’, we lost about 300 men, dead and wounded, with some MIA over the past 4 days,” the letter said. It was published by a Russian military blogger and widely circulated.
One prominent military blogger claimed the 155th and another unit “lost twice as many men in Pavlivka” – in Donetsk region – “as during the two Chechnya wars.”
In a rare acknowledgment of criticism, the Russian Defense Ministry retorted that losses did “not exceed 1% of the combat strength and 7% of the wounded, a significant part of whom have already returned to duty.”
But the reported debacle around Pavlivka is not an isolated incident.
Kateryna Stepanenko, who tracks the Russian military at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, says: “We have seen many complaints about unprepared mobilized men who were committed to the Svatove-Kreminna frontline [in Luhansk], which is currently one of the combat-heavy positions for Russian forces.”
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