We think we found another reason why Russian troops are unmotivated to fight in Ukraine. It seems that Russia is fighting a war on multiple fronts, one with Ukraine, another with dissenters and protesters in their own country, and another one with their own soldiers. A report by Russian but Latvia-based news site Meduza has stated that Russian contract soldiers are being threatened with criminal charges so that they cannot leave the battlefield.

That’s right. Contract soldiers, those who willingly signed up to fight and did not go through the conscription, are being threatened with criminal charges of desertion and treason if they express that they want to leave and break free of their contract.

According to the report, a young contract soldier named Ivan, who was born in 2001, signed on as a “contract” soldier in the Russian army.  Contract soldiers differ from conscripts in that they volunteer for a longer term of service than the 12 months conscripts are subjected to.  SOFREP previously reported that conscripts tend to be drawn from the more impoverished areas of Russia and often lacking in education and job skills.  More so, we also reported how easy it is to avoid military service if the individual belongs to a wealthy or elite family, making the Russian army a virtual dumping ground for poor and uneducated Russian males.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the 2022 Victory Parade in Red Square, Moscow (Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vladimir_Putin_at_2022_Victory_Parade.jpg
President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the 2022 Victory Parade in Red Square, Moscow (Kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ivan, 21-years-old, wanted to earn money legitimately, so he signed up to serve in the military. With a monthly salary of $480 or 31,000 Russian rubles, he was willing to serve but was promised that he would be stationed somewhere close to Kemerovo so he could go home every day. With thos expectations in his contract, he signed on the dotted line on November 1 and went on to serve in Yurga, a not-so-far town from Kemerovo.

However, months would pass, and he and other soldiers were transferred and relocated, reportedly clueless about where their final destination would be. According to Ivan’s mom, Svetlana, Ivan’s duties were guarding military equipment and he “stoked the stove.”

Eventually, Ivan called his mother sometime in February, telling her that “they were on the move” and their superiors “said nothing” about their destination. Lo and behold, the reason why Ivan had not been calling his mother frequently was that he lost cellphone service as he was already in Ukraine – a fact his mother found out as the next call from Ivan would be from a borrowed cellphone belonging to a local, tracing the area code to the city of Chernihiv, Ukraine.

Once Ivan returned to Russia as the Russian forces retreated to focus on completely “liberating” the Donbas region, he revealed grim details about what we already knew – that Russia was struggling with its supply chain.

According to the contract soldier, they did not have food, so they were forced to eat anything the Ukrainian troops left behind. They also slept in random places, mostly in abandoned houses. He explained to his mother that “they would rather go to prison than back to Ukraine.”

“We have no idea who we’re fighting against or fighting for or how we’re doing it. I don’t want to criticize the army. I don’t know if they had a commanding officer with them; they aren’t allowed to disclose this over the phone. But I concluded they had been abandoned,” Ivan’s mother said as she recounted what he told her.

Ukrainian authorities discovering Russian soldiers buried in a ditch, possibly where Russian forces dumped them as per previous reports (Cal Perry). Source: https://twitter.com/CalNBC/status/1524445919760031744
Ukrainian authorities discovering Russian soldiers buried in a ditch, possibly where Russian forces dumped them as per previous reports (Cal Perry/Twitter)

For many, this is not surprising news. SOFREP along with other defense and military news outlets reported last March that the Russian forces had used conscripts to fight their war in Ukraine, with most of them not being trained. While Ivan is not a conscript, he was new to military service, which means that he did not get formal training or only knew the basics.

Public outcry in Russia ensued as Russian law stated that conscripts with less than 4 months of service could not be sent to combat zones, yet tens of thousands apparently were.  The pushback was significant enough that Putin made an appearance on national television and stated that this was done against his express orders and that those responsible would be punished.

Reports also surfaced during the first portion of the invasion that these Russian troops were surrendering without a fight because of a lack of food, fuel, heat and morale. Russian troops were being issued rations expired for more than 6 years and that most of their troops had been lied to, telling them that they were just going on military exercises. While it was true that the Russians had been training with the Belarusian military for a few months prior to the invasion, they did not reveal to their troops that they were eventually going to invade Ukraine.  This legal issue about using conscripts in an active war zone may have had a lot to do with couching the invasion as a “Special Military Operation.”

Going back to Ivan, he also revealed to his mother that he and his other comrades had tried to terminate their contracts and switch to conscript service as they were promised they’d be sent back to Yurga, Russia. Some 250 soldiers wanted to terminate their contracts in total.

Upon receiving these termination requests, agents from Russia’s security service, the FSB, and a prosecutor showed up, telling them that they would be served with criminal charges if they wanted to terminate their contract as this allegedly constituted a military offense for refusing to follow orders.

Under this threat, these 250 people, including our Ivan, were compelled to sign new contracts where they would specifically agree to participate in Russia’s so-called “special military operation.”

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Let’s try and piece this information with previous reports.

Now, we have confirmation that the Russians did force some of their conscripts and soldiers to fight in Ukraine by threatening them or directly lying to them. Ivan’s story informs us that the Russian military did not want to let their troops terminate their contract. The possible reason behind this is that soldiers who share the same or similar sentiments to Ivan (or people like Ivan who don’t want to fight), if granted their termination, could start a flurry of terminations and resignations.  Conscripts enlisted for 12 months could be expected to be upset about being sent to a combat zone with so little training, but a revolt among the 400,000 Contract soldiers represents the core professional cadre of the Russian armed forces also trying to get out of the fight.  Were Russia to allow Contract troops to switch over to Conscript status, the army would be forced to return them to Russian territory and see them leave the service within 12 months.  This would create a manpower shortage in the short term and a major retention problem in the long term.  Russia can’t really sustain a conflict with Ukraine under such conditions.

Faced with the reality of remaining in Ukraine as Contract troops in seeming violation of the terms of a contract that would keep them in Russia and being threatened with prison for protesting their treatment by the government, large numbers of Russian troops began deserting from the army and either fleeing back to Russia in civilian clothes or seeking refuge in Ukraine itself.

SOFREP and other media outlets reported that Russian troops were actively abandoning their fully-fueled and operational Russian military vehicles and stealing civilian clothes and cars. Once they did, they took off for the nearest Belarusian and Russian borders in the hopes of making it home.

In response, there are credible reports that paramilitary units of the Russian Interior Ministry, the FSB, Chechens and even Spetnaz units patrolled the rear areas looking for deserters who were being arrested or even shot on the spot bugging out.

But things don’t end there for Ivan. Unfortunately, his younger brother Alexey had also joined the Russian military under a contract. He was also sent to Ukraine without any training. While he tried to get out of his contract also through a termination, Alexey was also threatened with criminal charges for doing so. In the end, they left Russia and joined the fighting in Ukraine.

“They had no training. They are basically recruits. They didn’t run away or abandon the unit; they have been there [to Ukraine] once and do not want to go back. But they talked to them for several hours. I can’t imagine how much pressure that was. All of the boys signed their consent under pressure. We [their parents] were all in shock.”