It’s been rumored for months that Chechens, Wagner PMC and members of the Russian National Guard personally loyal to Putin were occupying rear area blocking positions to prevent the desertion of Russian soldiers from the front lines, but now it is official.
According to an assessment from UK’s Ministry of Defence intelligence branch,
“Due to low morale and reluctance to fight, Russian forces have probably started deploying ‘barrier troops’ or ‘blocking units.’ These units threaten to shoot their own retreating soldiers in order to compel offensives and have been used in previous conflicts by Russian forces. Recently, Russian generals likely wanted their commanders to use weapons against deserters, including possibly authorizing shooting to kill such defaulters after a warning had been given. Generals also likely wanted to maintain defensive positions to the death. The tactic of shooting deserters likely attests to the low quality, low morale, and indiscipline of Russian forces.”
Russia doesn’t have the death penalty in its legal system anymore but that doesn’t mean it isn’t willing to reimpose it in an ad hoc manner. The news that Ukraine was creating a Foreign Legion of foreign fighters to augment its own armed forces at the beginning of the war had Russia threatening to execute any that fell into their hands as captives, denying them any rights as prisoners of war under the Geneva Accords. The threat itself came from Viktor Gavrilov of the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic which was itself a fictional creation of Moscow to give itself cover.