Russia punishes rebellious soldiers in prison camps amid rising mutiny threats

Russia’s military has started imprisoning rebellious soldiers in disused camps and executing their ringleaders to stamp out mutinies.

Astra, a Russian Telegram news channel, said hundreds of front line soldiers were refusing to charge Ukrainian trenches in “human wave” attacks ordered by the Kremlin.

“We’re contacted almost every day by relatives of Russian soldiers held by their commanders in camps for ‘refusniks’,” it said. “The 173 soldiers that Astra knows about are just the tip of the iceberg.”

As well as suicidal battlefield tactics, the mutinous soldiers also complain about drunk officers, a lack of ammunition, poor reconnaissance and inedible food. They are being held in damp basements, shallow punishment pits, prisons and pens.

The US has also said it has seen evidence that Russian officers have killed their soldiers to stop mutinies.

John Kirby, the spokesman for the US National Security Council, said: “The Russian military has been actually executing soldiers who are refusing to follow orders.”

Rebellions have been a problem for the Russian Army throughout its war in Ukraine but Dr Stephen Hall, an assistant professor of Russian politics at the University of Bath, said a spike in mutinies suggests that morale is worse than ever.





Rebellions have been a recurring problem within the Russian army since the beginning of the war


Credit: Libkos/Getty

“There have been some rumours of executions and imprisonments but, certainly, it has only just come out in terms of the scale,” he said.

Russia launched a major attack at Avdiivka, in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, earlier in October to try to give Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, the battlefield victory that he craves and to draw Ukrainian soldiers away from the southern front line where they had been threatening to break through.

But it has come at a huge cost and the British Ministry of Defence said more Russian soldiers had been killed in the offensive than any other battle this year.

Russia’s highest casualty rates

“Russia has probably committed elements of up to eight brigades to the sector. These elements have likely suffered some of Russia’s highest casualty rates of 2023 so far,” it said.

The latest assessment by Western intelligence agencies is that Russia has suffered up to 200,000 casualties since it launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Even so, the Kremlin has stuck to its traditional “meat grinder” tactics after its initial lightning strike using special forces to capture Kyiv failed, which means focusing now on military recruitment.

The Russian military has already recruited heavily from prisons but it is also focusing on Russia’s large migrant population, predominantly Muslims from former Soviet Central Asia.

Earlier in October, Russian riot police raided a mosque in a Moscow commuter town and forced the men to sign up for the army and Russian officials want to strip dual national migrants who have not fought in Ukraine of their Russian citizenship.

Edward Lemon, a Central Asian specialist and professor at Texas A&M University, said the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine had made Russia a more dangerous place to live for migrants.

“Migrants, especially dual citizens, live in increasing fear that they will get drafted,” he said.

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