Morale among Russian troops in Ukraine’s Donbas region is “exceedingly low” at the moment.

“Multiple reports indicate that the morale and psychological state of Russian forces in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts are exceedingly low,” according to ISW.

The mental state among Russian soldiers in Donetsk and Luhansk resulted from troop desertion, inadequate battle preparation, and casualties, all of which occurred late last month when Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the regions annexed.

Historically, Russia has not had a good relationship with the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The regions have been considered part of Ukraine, and Putin has long desired to gain control over them. So when he declared the regions annexed last month, many of the Russian soldiers in those areas were surprised and did not agree with the decision. As a result, morale declined even further, and many troops deserted.

The annexation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is just the latest in a long history of Russian involvement in these areas. Since the early 1990s, Russia has been backing separatist movements in both regions. In 1994, Russian troops were deployed to the Donetsk region to support a separatist uprising. And just before the annexation, Russia sent troops and artillery into eastern Ukraine to support the separatists there.

The battle preparations that were made prior to Russia’s annexation of the regions were inadequate, resulting in many Russian soldiers being killed or injured. The Russian military had not expected such fierce resistance from the Ukrainian army, and as a result, they were not properly prepared for battle. In addition, many of the troops were not properly trained, which also contributed to the high number of casualties.

Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin during the address “On the conduct of a special military operation” on February 24, 2022 (Source: Presidential Executive Office of Russia/Wikimedia)

Since annexing the regions, Putin has come under fire from both domestic and international sources. Domestic sources have criticized him for his decision to annex those regions without widespread approval from the troops. International authorities have condemned him for his actions in Ukraine; some have even implemented sanctions against Russia. As a result of all this criticism, Putin’s approval rating has plummeted in recent weeks.

According to ASTRA, Russian authorities have imprisoned more than 300 mobilized men in a basement in Zaitseve, Luhansk Oblast, for refusing to return to the battle lines. According to reports, several detention centers for Russian citizens have been identified in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

Igor Artamonov, governor of Russia’s Lipetsk region, said that relatives of mobilized personnel specifically complained about the poor conditions near Svatove, Luhansk.

Artamonov allegedly said that troops had suffered “severe losses” and been inadequately trained and equipped before being sent to the battle lines.
Russia is also attempting to draft new soldiers in Kadiivka by going door-to-door and forcing people in Luhansk to join the military, according to ISW.

Critics have also lambasted President Vladimir Putin’s decision to mobilize 300,000 Russian reservists as part of a partial mobilization in October as excessively provocative. Among the issues raised are assertions that reservists are physically unfit, too old to fight, and provided with inadequate instruction and equipment.

A recently circulating video clip on social media shows Russian draftee Alexander Leshkov confronting an officer over a failure to “supply and train mobilized soldiers” adequately. Leshkov was criminally charged in the act of defiance and may face up to 15 years in prison.

The British Ministry of Defense has warned that Russian military personnel could be shot on sight if they try to desert their posts, citing this as a reason for the low morale of Russian troops in the coming months.

With untrained soldiers continually getting sent to the frontlines, it is unclear how Moscow plans to pacify the family members of these recruits as the war goes on, with no clear exit strategy for the Russians. Only time will tell if this disdain will be enough to finally oust Putin or if will this be another national concern they’d be able to nip in the bud.