Moscow uses its non-Russian subjects to do its fighting. You won’t guess who’ll be next

A Russian soldier from Buryatia fighting in Donbas

An ethnic Buryat Russian soldier fighting in Donbas 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia

The admission by a Moscow newspaper of what the whole world knows even if its leaders sometimes won’t say — that Moscow has deployed units of its own army in Ukraine – has attracted attention around the world, but one part of that acknowledgement has not, although ultimately this may be the most important part of it.

And that is this: Moscow is not using just any of its own troops. It is using non-Russians in its war against Ukraine, and at least some of their fellow non-Russians within the current borders of the Russian Federation are asking a question that Vladimir Putin certainly doesn’t want them to: when, they inquire, did the Ukrainians attack our nations and republics?

Four of the seven soldiers referred to by Ilya Barabanov in “Kommersant” on Thursday are from non-Russian parts of the country, not surprising given the demographic decline of the ethnic Russians relative to non-Russian nations there and economic problems that drive some non-Russians to see the military as a way out much as less-well-off groups do in other countries.

In reporting this pattern but in not giving the full names so that the nationalities of those involved could be determined, the “Kommersant” journalist says by way of a postscript that “the author knows the full names of all the heroes of the text but the editors do not consider it correct to publish them yet.”

But Barabanov provides one telling detail: an exchange among soldiers of the Russian military. One, who notes that there are Buryats in their ranks, says that they are “Donbas Indians,” a dismissive comment about a proud Mongol nation in the Transbaikal. And then the journalist adds “All smile [because] all understand everything.”

In commenting on this story, however, one Buryat activist makes it clear that not everyone understands everything or at last everything in the way that Vladimir Putin would like them to. Sayana Mongush notes that “Ukraine has not attacked Buryatia, Tuva or Yakutia” and wonders why men from there should be sent to fight there.

Once again, the empire is using its non-Russian subjects to do its fighting, and once again, while some are doing so willingly, others are questioning this practice. And such questions in and of themselves highlight the divisions within Russian society and undermine the supposed monolithic unity of that country.

At the very least, they are likely to give some in Moscow pause about a policy that demographics and economics have left the Russian regime if it wants to continue its aggression with no choice but to adopt.

In the coming days and weeks as Putin’s aggression continues, it will thus be important to watch not only the extent to which the Russian Army in Ukraine is not exclusively Russian but also the way in which non-Russians are reacting to their use, especially as the Kremlin pushes an ever more Russian nationalist line and reduces its support for non-Russian areas.

At the same time, and in yet another indication that neither Russians nor non-Russians are as eager to fight in Ukraine as some have suggested, there are increasingly frequent reports that Moscow will use at least some of the prisoners it plans to amnesty as soldiers in Ukraine.

Russian convictsIndeed, it is not impossible to imagine that some of these prisoners will be offered their freedom only if they agree to fight in Ukraine. To the extent that happens, Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine will take on not only a non-Russian face but very much a criminal one as well.


For more information about Russian regular troops from Buryatia read Buryat community against the war in Ukraine and  News of Deployment the 5th Tank Brigade of the Russian Eastern Military District to the Ukrainian border published by BurkoNews in November 2014.

Edited by: A. N.

Since you’re here – we have a favor to ask. Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine is ongoing, but major news agencies have gone away. But we’re here to stay, and will keep on providing quality, independent, open-access information on Ukrainian reforms, Russia’s hybrid war, human rights violations, political prisoners, Ukrainian history, and more. We are a non-profit, don’t have any political sponsors, and never will. If you like what you see, please help keep us online with a donation!

Tags: , , , , , ,

  • Alex Shenderov

    Yeah, right – that’s the most pressing issue in this conflict. Nothing more to talk about, just the Buryats. And the fact that until Russia is officially condemned as aggressor, it keeps its veto power in UN SC, and can therefore block any meaningful resolution – that’s OK, nothin’ to talk about. The fact that the sorry state of Russian economy is the single biggest reason to continue to escalate (in hopes of finding some loot somewhere, and to get some value out of skyrocketing military spending, and to make civil unrest equivalent to treason) ain’t even worth mentioning. The fact that every day Javelins are not available to push Russian tanks back from Ukraine is one day closer to having to use the same Javelins to push Russian tanks back from Poland, and then Germany – ain’t interesting. Go Buryats…

    • Charles J. Kollman


  • Charles J. Kollman

    I guess Putin may have a hard time sending Soldiers into the Ukraine that are Slavic in blood. So he is using people from Siberia the other land that The Russian Empire conquered just like how the What man conquered The Native American. I bet they don’t speak or understand Russian and they get a Ration of Vodka every day. Plus if they get killed who gives a shit and don’t worry about letting family now.

    • Alex Shenderov

      Buryats and Yakuts speak Russian just fine. And sending Russians to fight Ukrainians, who have been thoroughly demonized in the Russian press, is only a problem in one respect – instead of Yakutsk, they’ll come to Moscow and Rostov after the war to wreck havoc in their home towns. Yakutsk is farther from Kremlin.

  • DejaVu

    Just also remember that a large amount of the Russian army will comprise non-slavic Russians’s by 2020 so this will also lead to inevitable issues within the Russian military.

  • Jens A

    I have no proof what so ever, but I heard that during the Second Chechen War, the Russian army was careful not to send soldiers from Moscow and SPburg as that could implicate problems where politics are made. So, maybe the old saying that he who controls SPburg and Moscow controls Russia. That kind of unethical way to wage war, would not at all surprise me. Putin’s care for his peoples lives is only in his mouth. In action, he don’t give a damn about any people.

    • puttypants

      I do not understand why any of the central asian countries go along with Putin. Most of them are muslim and he’s made some pretty inflamatory remarks about them.

      • Jens A

        No, they are not. Not the Russian ones. But his “friends” in Central Asia are. In Siberia many of them are Buddhists and often low on money and jobs. Some of them, like many of the Yakuti hate Russia and Russians of all their hearths. Several of them I meet, thought of Russia as a history of 300 years of occupation.

      • Amalek H.

        Yeah, but Putin has a Tartar girlfriend or wife.

  • Dirk Smith

    Same as it ever was I guess. Moscow sacrificed millions of Ukrainian lives to do the same thing in WWII.

  • puttypants

    Russia using non-russians to fight their wars for them isn’t new. They certainly did that during WW2. I have read books about the war front and german soldiers saying they faced asians with yellow eyes.

  • RichFsr

    Straight out of the Communist playbook. Don’t use native troops in the region you are trying to control.