Several dozen contract soldiers in a Russian motorized rifle brigade based in Maikop have deserted in order to avoid being sent to fight in Ukraine. They now face up to ten years in prison, are being kept in “inhuman” conditions, and are constantly urged to agree to go to Ukraine as “volunteers,” according to a Moscow newspaper.
In today’s “Gazeta.ru,” an investigation by Vladimir Dergachev and Elizaveta Mayetnaya suggests that this is a growing problem, noting that in five years between 2010 and 2014, there were only 35 soldiers charged with being absent without leave or desertion while just in the first half of 2015, 62 soldiers were found guilty of such offenses.
The actual numbers may be much higher. A lawyer who is involved with the defense of five of the soldiers who have been charged told the two Moscow journalists that commanders had told her that the number of soldiers facing these charges is so large that it has overwhelmed the military justice system there.
One of the soldiers facing charges has filed a brief with the court, the two journalists say. It states that he “did not comply with a criminal order since he did not want to break his oath of military service and did not want to participate in military actions on the territory of Ukraine.”
Other soldiers involved say they were under intense pressure to “volunteer” to fight in Ukraine, with senior officers from other units coming and offering them as much as 8,000 rubles (160 US dollars) a day [this is over 30 times higher than the Russian average monthly wage of 34,000 rubles or about 680 US dollars a month — Ed.]. But according to the lawyer, Tatyana Chernetskaya, “no one wants to fight in the Donbas for 8,000 a day as the recruiters promised, or even for 28,000.”
These recruiters, the soldiers say, wore camouflage uniforms without any indication that they were in the Russian army but with signs of rank clearly visible – an indication that this whole operation was part of Moscow’s efforts to maintain deniability about Russian involvement and possibly of Moscow’s fears that regular commanders won’t be effective in such recruiting.
The two journalists say the Russian defense ministry was unable to provide any comment. “However,” they point out, that institution “has frequently given ‘Gazeta.ru’ the official position: reports about the presence of Russian soldiers on the territory of Ukraine are a lie, and rumors about agitation in Russian units to go as volunteers to the Donbas are unreliable.”