Russian lawyer Mikhail Benyash said he and his team would soon defend a group of Russian National Guards from the Rosgvardia who got fired for refusing to take part in the invasion of Ukraine. After making the announcement, Benyash said that he was flooded with phone calls from people in different parts of Russia.
“A lot of people don’t want to go and fight,” Benyash told the Financial Times through a phone call from the city of Krasnodar. He added that over a thousand people have been in touch with his team while he prepares for the first court trial that will potentially expose growing dissent among Russia’s forces.
Benyash will defend 12 members of the National Guard who have been relieved of their positions after refusing to be deployed in Ukraine. These guardsmen were members of the Rosgvardia, an internal military force separate from the army. It was established in 2016 through a law signed by Vladimir Putin.
Head of Russian human rights group Agora, Pavel Chikov, said that the guardsmen were deployed to Crimea before the invasion to conduct military exercises. However, after the start of the invasion on February 24th, the group received an order to advance toward the border and head to Ukraine. The 12 refused and were subsequently dismissed from duty for their decision.
The guardsmen argue that command was unlawful, citing that they were soldiers but were part of an internal force designed to accomplish duties within Russia.
“The refusal to carry out the order was explained by its unlawfulness,” Chikov wrote. “Their direct duties were limited to the territory of the Russian Federation.”
He noted that none of the men were informed that they were being deployed to Ukraine to partake in Putin’s special operation. They were also not briefed on the tasks and conditions of the operation.
“As a consequence, (they) did not consent to it,” Chikov added.
Western observers often refer to the Rosgvardia as Putin’s private army. Directly subordinate to the Russian president, the force has been mainly used to cull anti-government protests at home and is accused of using brutal tactics against activists. Its responsibilities also cover combatting terrorism and organized crime.
Despite their domestic-focused responsibilities, the Rosgvardia has been reportedly seen in the battlegrounds of Ukraine, with one unverified video showing the force’s equipment and vehicles abandoned in the snow.
Putin reportedly gave honorary distinctions to some Rosgvardia members who were wounded during heavy combat in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. This essentially confirms the presence of the internal force on the front lines.
Benyash argues that the Rosgvardia service members were not trained to conduct full combat operations, more so to fight in a war.
“Have [they] been taught to dig trenches? To build defensive structures?” he asked. “In their line of work, they handle small guns. Maximum they have automated weapons, but they basically never use them.”
Russian Troops on the Verge of Mutiny
The lawsuit hints at growing dissatisfaction across Russian forces, which, according to western media, can be seen in reports of low morale and suspected acts of self-sabotage by troops. This was also reported by SOFREP earlier when reports had surfaced that Russian soldiers were surrendering without a fight. Some of these Russian troops were also leaving their functioning vehicles, while some of them destroyed the key components of their military vehicles.
Reports of small units operating behind Russian lines in Urkaine rounding up Russian deserters and shooting them are also be attributed to members of the Russian National Guard
“We are, unsurprisingly, seeing disquiet at all levels within Russia’s armed forces,” Admiral Tony Radakin of the United Kingdom said. He is the country’s Chief of Defense Staff and the head of the British Armed Forces.
“You’ve seen it at the most junior level… We are also seeing the pressure that exists with their tactical and operational commanders… and then you get up to their most senior commanders who are clearly under pressure too.”
Culminating reports of unsatisfied Russian soldiers added with news of Benyash’s court case push speculations that Putin’s army is on the verge of mutiny.
However, the British Admiral warned that mutiny was a strong word, saying that “the naval officer in me twitches when I hear the word.”
He added that observers will have to “wait and see” whether the current reports of dissent within the Russian military “evolves into something more impactful.”
Despite the support for Benyash’s defendants, 9 out of the 12 guardsmen have pulled out of the wrongful dismissal case. Benyash says that some withdrew due to growing pressure from their families and Russian society, while others backed out because of threats of criminal cases.
“Some are seeing their relatives turn away from them,” Benyash added.