This seems a bit too good to be true, but it also comes with some evidentiary support — from Vladimir Putin’s government. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) reported over the weekend that Putin’s call for more troops has not had the desired effect so far of inspiring Russians to enlistment offices. It’s certainly not convincing veterans to return for more of the “special military operation” non-war that Putin’s not winning, even if he isn’t quite losing it yet:
Yelena’s son, Pavel, was serving in the Far Eastern Amur region when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Almost immediately, his unit was sent to the front, and he served almost 40 days in combat. Then his unit was sent back to Russia to regroup, Yelena told RFE/RL’s North.Realities. When his unit was preparing to return to Ukraine, Pavel refused.
“If he doesn’t want to go back, am I supposed to push him, to tell him, ‘Grab your weapon and go,’” Yelena said. “Those who haven’t been there have no right judge those who have.”
Yelena’s son is one of a significant but unknown number of Russian contract soldiers who have refused to either fight in Ukraine in the first place or who have fought and do not want to return.
Lawyer Pavel Chikov, founder of the Agora legal-aid NGO, has written on Telegram that more than 1,000 military personnel and National Guard troops from at least seven regions have refused to go to Ukraine.
Are we sure this is a real problem, rather than a propaganda effort to undermine Russian morale? RFERL isn’t inclined toward the latter as a rule, presumably especially not in a Biden administration that still tailors its response to Russia in incremental steps. Furthermore, this is less acute a problem on the front for Russia than the refusal of its soldiers already there to fight, an issue since the first days of its invasion of Ukraine by conscripts and badly provisioned troops. If the West wanted to focus on a problem for propaganda purposes, desertions on the line and surrenders to Ukrainian forces would get the most attention.
This story comes from multiple sources to RFERL, and another source says the real impact is much greater than the official numbers from Agora suggests:
Ruslan Leviyev, the founder of the Conflict Intelligence Team, a Russian NGO that monitors open-source information about the Russian military, told Current Time that the actual number of these cases might be considerably larger and that the refusals could be severely hampering Russia’s efforts to regroup and renew its military operations in eastern Ukraine.
“The phenomenon of refusal is becoming systemic,” Leviyev said. “Such soldiers are found in practically every unit that has returned from Ukraine. According to our estimates, from 20 to 40 percent of the contract servicemen that returned from Ukraine and that are being readied to be sent back are refusing to return to combat.”
Apparently, not even the threat of prosecution has overcome the refuseniks’ opposition to fighting in Ukraine. While this does not constitute desertion, Russians can still prosecute these soldiers for actions detrimental to military readiness, contract or no. That might be tough to do in large numbers while maintaining the Chip Diller pretense that all is well domestically with Putin’s Great Patriotic War II: Ukrainian Boogaloo.
It appears that the problem has grown large enough for Moscow to punish it through official channels in other ways. An official stamp has reportedly been created for military personnel who refuse to fight, accusing them of “treason, lies, and deception,” a standing that will impact their de facto social-credit score in Russia:
Штамп отлили? Значит, явление массовое. Это хорошо. pic.twitter.com/o6LPbNtYcm
— Leonid Volkov (@leonidvolkov) April 13, 2022
“Inclined toward treason, lies, and deception,” the official-looking stamp reads.
“Refused to participate in the special military operation on the territory of the LNR, DNR, and Ukraine,” it continued, using the abbreviations adopted by the Moscow-backed separatists in parts of eastern Ukraine to designate the territory they claim and which Moscow has recognized as sovereign countries.
Grebenyuk said the soldier told him he had served seven months in Syria and had been granted “rest and rehabilitation leave,” which was rescinded when he was ordered to go to Ukraine.
In a post on Twitter, Leonid Volkov, a top aide to imprisoned opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, wrote: “They had a stamp made? That means it is a mass phenomenon. Good.”
This sounds similar to getting a dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge on your DD214, but only in kind and not degree. In the US, that has a limited impact on civilian life (except for security clearances and access to some veterans benefits), but then again we don’t use a China-esque social-credit score. Russia’s autocracy apparently does, which means that these kinds of retributions carry more significance for the refuseniks. Assuming that picture is genuine, Volkov therefore makes a good point. If refuseniks have become a big enough phenomenon to have an official designation, it means (a) revulsion among the enlisted and drafted at the Ukraine war is growing, and (b) even this isn’t enough to get those soldiers back on the front.
The refusal to serve combined with the anger of parents of lost Russian troops that Allahpundit notes in the previous post suggests that Putin’s ability to field a military may be time-limited. He’s trying to cast this as a war against NATO to sell his Ukraine adventure, but the two combined make it sound as though Russians aren’t buying it, even in a China-like information bubble cheered by RT’s editor in chief. If Ukraine can hang on for another month, and if they keep chewing up Russian troops in that period, Putin’s ability to wage war may be crippled.
Conventional war, anyway.