Staunton, July 11 – 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 Gazeta.ru on July 11, Vladimir Dergachev and Elizaveta Mayetnaya suggest that this is a growing problem, noting that between 2010 and 2014, there were only 35 cases in which soldiers were charged with being absent without leave of desertion while in the first half of 2015 alone, 62 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 specifies that he “did not fulfill a criminal order since he did not want to go against the oath which [he] took 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 (US $160) a day. But according to the lawyer, Tatyana Chernetskaya, “no one wants to fight in the Donbass 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 Donbass are unreliable.”