Thousands of Russian soldiers deserting army: Kyiv

Thousands of Russian soldiers are deserting the army, more than two years into the war started by President Vladimir Putin, according to Kyiv.

Ukraine’s military intelligence agency (HUR) said Monday that troops under Russia’s Southern Military District deployed to fight in the war are increasingly deserting their posts. Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Defense Ministry for comment by email. We have as yet been unable to verify the HUR claims.

Desertion has been an issue for Russia’s military throughout Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In November 2022, the British Defense Ministry said Kremlin generals may have sanctioned the use of weapons against deserters, “including possibly authorizing shooting to kill such defaulters after a warning had been given.”

A Ukrainian infantryman with the 28th Brigade takes cover in a partially dug trench along the front line on March 5, 2023 outside of Bakhmut, Ukraine. Thousands of Russian soldiers are deserting the army, more…

More than 18,000 Russian servicemen of the Southern Military District have fled their posts; around 12,000 of them belong to the 8th Combined Arms Army, a unit “which the enemy constantly engages in hostilities in the east of Ukraine,” the HUR said on Telegram. Some 2,500 troops have deserted the Russian 58th Combined Arms Army, it added.

Desertion from the Russian army carries a 10-year prison sentence. In February, a Russian anti-war project named “Get Lost”, which was created to help Russian men evade or escape conscription in Ukraine, said cases of desertion from the Russian military increased tenfold this year.

The Latvia-based Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which was cofounded by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, interviewed Russian servicemen who fled the war in Ukraine.

Ivan, who was an officer in the Russian army when Putin invaded Ukraine in February 2022, said he had “tried to quit” before the war began.

“I didn’t like the military system and no longer wanted it to be a part of my life. None of my subordinates escaped from the front line, but I sent them on leave as often as I could and the majority simply didn’t return,” Ivan said in a report published on February 29.

“Sometimes, I talk to soldiers I served with who are still in Ukraine. Their moods vary. Some, who have been on the front line for almost two years, say they feel fine now and wouldn’t go even if the opportunity arose.”

Ivan said soldiers typically want to leave after being in “unbearable conditions”, noting that they first “look for legal routes, and when they see there are none, they run.”

“Desertion is as hard as it ever was and it all depends on where the soldier is. To leave the front, he must either be granted furlough or be sent to a hospital, from where he’ll leave for another country, legally or illegally,” Ivan said, adding that fleeing from the front line is “very dangerous.”

“People are fully aware that there are criminal consequences, but that doesn’t stop them. Some pretend they are one of the dead or injured; some shoot themselves in the foot to get out to a hospital and then escape from there,” Ivan added.

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