Putin’s war in Ukraine has become a full-fledged disaster, with some even saying it could threaten his ability to rule the country effectively. However, the Russian President seems inclined to press on the fight – no matter the cost or the world’s opinion of his methods.
Russia’s military is likely deploying units with the sole purpose of threatening to shoot soldiers caught retreating in Ukraine, the UK Ministry of Defence said on Friday.
In an intelligence update, the ministry said that “due to low morale and reluctance to fight, Russian forces have probably started deploying ‘barrier troops’ or ‘blocking units.'”
“These units threaten to shoot their own retreating soldiers in order to compel offensives and have been use in previous conflicts by Russian forces,” it added.
The ministry also said that Russian generals have likely told their commanders to use weapons against deserters, including possibly authorizing shooting to kill after a warning had been given.
A swathe of reports and Western intelligence updates have pointed to low morale in the Russian army, as it continues its war in Ukraine, and in particular since Ukraine started to win back territory and push back Russian forces in September.
The defense ministry said that the tactic of shooting deserters “likely attests to the low quality, low morale, and indiscipline of Russian forces”.
“Generals also likely wanted to maintain defensive positions to the death.”
Russia’s army has retreated from Ukraine in some areas of the country, including the city of Lyman, in the eastern Donetsk region.
Ukraine has intercepted multiple conversations by Russian troops in which they bemoan the war, complain about their conditions, curse Russian leadership and even say they want to get injured so they can go home.
Many young men in Russia have also left the country in a bid to avoid being called up to fight.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has actively intervened to stop his troops retreating. The New York Times reported in September that Putin was desperate to keep control of the city of Kherson, where Ukraine is now approaching, and denied a request from the military to retreat from the city.
Russia has also increased the punishment for deserting troops. In September, the State Duma passed a bill increasing jail time for soldiers who desert their unit from 5 years to up to 10 years. Putin signed a decree allowing the penalty to be enforced.
Sinéad Baker is a Senior News Reporter based in Business Insider’s London bureau (where this first appeared), focusing on breaking news. Sinéad most often covers global and US politics. She has closely covered the 2020 presidential race and crises in international diplomacy. She has appeared on BBC News and The Guardian’s politics podcast to talk about developments around the world, and has been cited by Congressional hearings. Sinéad previously completed a master’s degree in investigative journalism at City, University of London, and has written for The Guardian, The Observer, and TheJournal.ie. Sinéad is the former editor of the multi-award-winning The University Times in Dublin.
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