Failure to Deploy

Over the years, I’ve known guys that have been deployed to combat zones up to nine times. That’s a lot of risks and a lot of time away from home, but it goes with the territory. It’s not like we had the opportunity to say no.

Fast forward to 2022, and some Russian soldiers who have already fought in Ukraine are refusing to go back, citing things like insufficient paychecks and the possibility they may be killed. These “refuseniks” are coming from many units, and most, for understandable reasons, do not want to be identified. However, Newsweek is reporting that members of the Russian Guard from Krasnodar have publically voiced their dissatisfaction and reasons for not wanting to return to the fight.

As I often say, look at a problem hard enough, and there will likely be a monetary component in there somewhere. This is true with the Russian refusal. On top of everything else, their paychecks are shrinking. One of the reasons for this is the growing exchange rate of the Russian ruble.

An anonymous source told Newsweek:

“Just the other day, a payment for the second month of being there came. And if for the first month they paid 100 thousand, now it’s 50. The command explained this by the fall in the dollar exchange rate—the payment is calculated from about 50 dollars per day of stay, but is made in rubles at the Russian exchange rate.” 

Nothing saps the motivation of a soldier like not being paid. However, the Russian troops are not dumb; despite their pay cut and slowed economic growth back home, most realize that the ruble’s value has soared significantly. The Wall Street Journal reports that the value of the ruble is up more than 150% after recovering from its initial crash following the invasion.

My Russian is a little rusty, but this stamp, purportedly placed in the official military service booklet of a soldier refusing to serve, says something about him being “inclined towards treason, lies, and deception.” Image Credit: rferl.org

Real-Time Intelligence

Yesterday I made the acquaintance of a really interesting young Estonian guy with both Russian and Ukrainian heritage. His name is Dmitri, and he runs a site called wartranslated.com. Part of what he posts there are transcripts of intercepted internal Russian military communications. These are made available by the Ukrainian GUR Intelligence Service, and the following is reproduced with Dmitri’s cooperation and permission.

The following intercepted call was between a Russian officer of the 64th Separate Motorised Rifle Brigade and an unidentified Russian soldier of lower rank. The 64th was the unit responsible for the Bucha massacre.

Soldier (S): Good afternoon, comrade…how are you? 

Russian Officer (RO): F**k! Better not to say. 

S: Are you coming here? Or not yet? 

RO: Yep

S: You coming on those vehicles? The BVM’s?

RO: Four BVM’s and six BV’s.

S: “…” We’ve had some news flash that Shoygu was removed from office, yes? Have you heard about that?

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RO: Don’t think so? He was recently awarding Omurbekov (head of 64th motorised rifle brigade) with a medal “Zvezda”.

S: Are we being deliberately misinformed or something?.. “…” What I wanted to ask is, what’s going on with the money?

RO: The good news for you is that from yesterday, you’ll be getting 8,500 rubles every day, instead of dollars.

S: 8,500 a day? 

RO: Yes, yes, so in a month it will be 250,000, plus two salaries

S: Holy f**k! That’s f***ing awesome. Is this confirmed? 

RO: Putin signed the order on Sunday

S: F**king awesome. We have a f**kton of refuseniks!

RO: I’ve no idea where to get 366 people…

S: Is it all empty? 

RO: Yes! We have…around 150 people refuseniks. All who come back from there, not one even has a right to judge them. Who would want to go to this hell a second time? 

A Personal Account

Consider the case of Sergey (not his real name), who spent five weeks in combat in Ukraine earlier this year. Under the conditions of total anonymity, Sergey spoke with the BBC. He told them, “I don’t want to go back (to Ukraine) to kill or be killed.” Instead, Sergey found his way back home to Russia and hired an attorney. He’s now receiving legal advice on how to avoid being sent back. He is but one of several hundred soldiers doing the same thing.

Listening to him speak, you can tell that he is bitter about his experience: “I had thought that we were the Russian army, the most super-duper in the world. Instead we were expected to operate without even basic equipment, such as night vision devices,” he says.

“We were like blind kittens. I’m shocked by our army. It wouldn’t cost much to equip us. Why wasn’t it done?”

Sergey began his time in service as a conscript, but after a few months, he decided to sign a two-year professional contract offering him much more pay. In January, he says his unit was sent to the Ukrainian border for what he says he was told were drills. When the day of the invasion came in February, his unit crossed the border and almost immediately found themselves under attack. He says that the first night they spent the evening on an abandoned farm. This was when his commander told his men, “Well, as you will have worked out by now, this is not a joke.”

Sergey claims to have been totally shocked. Out of his unit of 50 men, ten were killed and another ten wounded. He tells stories of Russian soldiers so inexperienced they did not know how to fire their weapons. He says, “They could not tell one end of a mortar from another.” He talks about how his unit maneuvered single file up a dirt road through the Ukrainian countryside with no air cover, “Just in a column,” he says, “like we were in a parade.”  

Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Many would rather be dismissed or transferred than remain in the country and fight. Image Credit: Alexander Nemenov/AFP

In early April, Sergey was sent to a camp on the Russian side of the border. His unit was supposed to be regrouping for an assault in the east. After a couple of weeks, he received orders to return to Ukraine, and that’s when he and a couple of comrades told his commander they did not want to go. Instead of getting yelled at, he encountered apathy. Sergey said, “They didn’t even [try to] dissuade us because we weren’t the first.” 

That’s when he got legal advice. He and his friends were told to return their arms and go back to their unit headquarters and submit a letter explaining how they were “morally and psychologically exhausted” and could not continue to fight. His attorney told him that if he did not return to his unit, it could be interpreted as desertion, a violation of his contract that could get him a two-year sentence in a disciplinary battalion.

Russian human rights lawyer Alexei Tabalov told the BBC that, oddly enough, Russian military law includes clauses that allow soldiers to refuse to fight if they don’t want to. As of now, he is not aware of any prosecutions of soldiers refusing to return to the front.

To those who served in the US military, the idea of refusing to fight or be sent to a combat zone is utterly incomprehensible.  You’d be charged with failure to obey a direct order and subject to courts-martial unless you had a damned good reason to refuse, like a serious religious objection or a serious health problem that you had not recovered fully from.  Outside of that, you are looking at an adverse discharge and some jail time for sure.

So why is the Russian army different?  Because military service in Russia is not very popular with the people. The Russian army has a terrible time attracting recruits to fill out its ranks.  The pay is terrible, the bases and living accommodations suck and so does the food.  Theft and screwing off are endemic in their services as well.  It is widely considered within Russia to be one of the worst jobs you can have.  As a result, avoiding the draft is Russia is a thriving business of brides and forged documents to evade serving.  Trying to counter this, Russia makes a lot of promises to troops about what they won’t be called upon to do while being conscripts, like offering you an opt-out option if they try to send you into a war zone. Early in the conflict, Russia sent raw conscripts into Ukraine on “training” because they had laws on the books that prohibited them from sending recruits with less than 4 months of service into areas of conflict. This got Putin into a lot of trouble and he had to apologize to the Russian people and blamed his generals for breaking the law and sending thousands of raw recruits to their deaths in the first weeks of the war.

Now, if Russia did declare war formally on Ukraine, all these laws about how conscripts could be used are suspended. Russia calls up all its reservists to active duty, and they serve until the war is over. Under those conditions there is no refusal to fight permitted. Such a declaration would require the approval of the Federal Council and he may not be able to get a State of Emergency decree approved since Russia isn’t being invaded and is itself the invader.

So he is stuck with the Special Military Operation and the conscripts who can legally opt out of s fight outside of Russia if they want to.