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War in Ukraine. (Tatyana Tkachuk, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
SOFREP is on Telegram, joining the ‘Information Terrorists’ plaguing Russia
Given the news blackout in Russia on anything critical of the Putin regime and the difficulty in getting news into that country that doesn’t pass through the filters of state-controlled media like Sputnik, Russia Today(RT), and Pradva.
Putin slammed a law through that makes it a crime to spread false information or fake news about Russia’s armed forces or, to report anything that denigrates Russian soldiers in any way. The law also punishes statements perceived to promote restrictions that harm the country, like commentary on the sanctions. And there are serious penalties, not only in fines but up to 15 years in jail.
Russia has throttled social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for not censoring content that was critical of Russia and its invasion of Ukraine, while in Ukraine itself, the Telegram messaging app is widely used to share and pass information about the war there.
If you don’t know, Telegram is a popular messaging app in Eastern Europe begun by two Russian brothers named Pavel and Nikolai Durov(Yeah, we had suspicions about that too). They had founded the messaging app “VK” previously but had to abandon it under pressure from Putin to share information with the government on users and messages. Basically, Russia wanted a back door into VK to surveil its users. The brothers refused and sold off their stake in the company and chose exile over compliance in 2014. Telegram was originally headquartered in Berlin with distributed servers to handle its cloud-based traffic, but problems with getting residency papers for the core team required another move to register the company in the British Virgin Island and Dubai. The brothers are now said to live pretty much on the run, moving from country to country with a core team of 15-20 people.
Our hope and intention with this channel are to be able to get our information into Russia and Ukraine. If you have a Telegram account yourself, follow us at @sofrepnews and spread the word.
Are The Russians Withdrawing or Retreating?
Some of both we think. The Russian army has suffered serious combat losses among its fighting units, to these may be added casualties from the cold weather and other medical casualties from their dire supply situation, poor sanitation in the field, desertion, and surrenders to the Ukrainian forces. There are also other causes. In Kharkiv, the civilians gave Russian troops of the 3rd Motor Rifle Division cakes laced with poison. Two were reportedly killed with 28 hospitalized. In the 3rd MRD, as many as 500 troops may be in the hospital from alcohol poisoning. If Ukrainian civilians put rubbing alcohol into vodka bottles and left them lying around for Russian troops to find, that would do the trick as Isopropanol is pretty toxic when consumed. It’s actually the leading cause of accidental poisonings in the US.
The Russian will not report these casualties as combat losses.
Ukraine’s offensive advances lead to Russian forces dug in around Kyviv being encircled on three sides short on supplies and short of men. They either had to be withdrawn before the Ukrainian army closed the encirclement and wiped them out or forced their surrender. According to Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence Agency, these are the Russian losses so far,
Personnel, killed, captured, and wounded ‒ about 18000 people,
tanks ‒ 644
combat armored machines/APV ‒ 1830
artillery systems/artillery systems ‒ 325
Multiple Launch Rocket Systems ‒ 105
Anti-aircraft warfare systems ‒ 54
Planes/aircraft ‒ 143
Helicopters ‒ 134
Cars/vehicles ‒ 1249
ships/boats/ cutters ‒ 7
fuel trucks ‒ 76
UAV operational-tactical level ‒ 89
mobile ballistic missile launcher systems ‒ 4
People may quibble about the accuracy of these numbers, but the fact that the Russians are unable to advance and are withdrawing would suggest they can’t be too far off.
Russia is withdrawing some of these units because their losses make them combat ineffective. The armored units Russia employed in this campaign are equipment heavy and light on personnel. Tank and APC crews take time to train and replace. We also know that Russia’s main tank manufacturing facility is all but closed due to supply chain problems. That will make it hard for Russia to replace its losses with new gear and they will have to repair broken tanks and APCs in their depots and send them to these units. The units mauled in the last five weeks of fighting are pretty beat up and will need rest and refitting. Their morale is also shot. It’s not as easy as just feeding new troops and equipment into these units and sending them back into the fight. Their low morale and state of health will negatively affect the replacements as well. What Russia ought to do, is replace these mangled formations with new units drawn from other districts. Given the absurdly bad moves Putin and his army has made so far, it is entirely possible they will do the exact wrong thing again and feed fresh troops into these degraded and demoralized formations and send them back into the fight. The results will not be any better.
That fight will not likely involve trying to get back to Kyiv and subdue the entire country. As they have stated, the Russian effort has contracted and will be directed towards consolidating their gains in Donbas and creating a land bridge via Mariupol to their occupation in Crimea.
Russia will probably play for time with the negotiations to give itself time to reorganize his forces and align them for new attacks on Crimea, Donbas, and Luhansk.
Ukraine will Investigate Accusations of War Crimes Against Russian POWs.
A video widely circulated on social media purports to show Ukrainian Army troops shooting Russian POWs in the legs after their capture near Kharkiv. An advisor to President Zelensky released a video calling for all members of the Ukrainian armed forces to adhere to the rules of armed conflict when it came to the treatment of prisoners. In an interview with Brett Bair at Fox News, President Zelensky confirmed that the perpetrators were members of the Azov Battalion(Now a Regiment) which are neo-Nazis. He also confirmed that they are under the authority of the Ukraine government since the war began within the National Guard but are not “regular army” as we would say in the US. Looking at the video it is apparent by their miss-matched gear that the Ukrainians are not regular members of the armed forces while one of the prisoners is a civilian dressed in black and wearing a red and orange armband. He is not a Russian soldier but a member of a pro-Russia Ukrainian militia group made up of Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Pro-Russian Ukrainians wear the red and orange St. George’s ribbon as s symbol of past Russian imperial power and to recall the glory of the era of the old Soviet Union.
It is important to understand that Ukraine is fighting two wars right now, one against an external invasion by Russia and a civil war between Ukrainians in Donbas, Luhansk, and Crimea. Central to the fight in Donbas is the so-called Azov Battalion which is widely painted as neo-Nazis. The Russians have used this group as the pretext for invading Ukraine, believing that the Azov Battalion exists everywhere in Ukraine.
The Azov Battalion sprung up in 2014 after Russian-backed separatists began grabbing a large part of Ukrainian territory in Donbas with little resistance by a wholly inadequate Ukrainian army. Initially comprise of rabid and violent fans of soccer clubs. The militia itself was begun by Andriy Biletsky, an ultra-nationalist political figure who believed in racial purity for Ukraine and led the openly neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly (SNA). Biletsky himself says that the neo-Nazi label is incorrect. Their core beliefs centered on Racism, Socialism, and Great Power. His group does not adhere to the Nationalist Socialism of the German Nazis but favors 3rd Way Socialism instead and claims that it is more Nationalist than the Nazis and less Socialist. In the fashion of modern European politics which has nothing on the Right like the limited government, and maximum individual liberty of the American Conservative movement, the Authoritarian Nationalist Socialists of the Azov movement are called “right-wing” while the Authoritarian Communists are called “left-wing.” Complicating the labeling of the Azov Battalion as “Nazi” a significant amount of their private funding in arms and equipment came from wealthy Jewish oligarchs in Ukraine.
All that said, the Azov are a pretty brutal bunch and we think that is who is responsible for the mistreatment of these Russian soldiers and the pro-Russian Ukrainian seen in the video, and not troops of the regular Ukrainian army. That is not to say that Ukraine’s army hasn’t skirted the edge of mistreatment of POWs while still claiming to adhere to international laws on their treatment. There are numerous videos of Russian prisoners being videoed calling their families saying they had been captured and were unaware they were going to Ukraine. It’s against the rules to use prisoners for things like this.
On March 2, the Facebook page of Ukraine’s Special Forces posted a chilling message to Russian troops that read,“The SOF Brotherhood sends greetings to Russian artillerymen! You made it: after you shelled our peaceful cities, our relatives, and children in the most brutal way – you worms have become our primary target (…).
From now on, there will be no more captive Russian artillerymen. No mercy, no “please don’t kill me, I surrender” will fly. You shall all be slaughtered like pigs no matter the position: commander, driver, the one aiming the gun. “
While this may be a PSYOP meant to intimidate Russian troops, threats like these will not sit well with US military advisors assigned to Ukraine’s military. US support is not unconditional and widespread abuse of Russian POWs by Ukraine would be a deal-breaker for the US and NATO in terms of aid and assistance. Zelensky needs to put the breaks on this stuff ASAP or he puts the support of the West at risk.
Ukraine Border Guards Turn Back Trans-women at the Border, ‘You are a man, go to the war.’
There are reliable reports that Ukrainian trans-women are presenting themselves at the border to enter Poland, Hungary, and Romania and are being turned back and told they are men and therefore obligated to serve in the army in the fight against Russia. When the invasion of his country began, President Zelensky declared martial law and a general mobilization order binding on all males between the ages of 18 and 60.
While Ukraine does not have a state religion as a matter of law, its de facto religion is Ukrainian Orthodox which separated itself from the Russian Orthodox church which continues to claim jurisdiction over it. These claims of jurisdiction have also been supported by the Russian government as well.
As Ukraine is a deeply religious country it does not hand out gender reassignments that change people’s names and genders like candy. a person seeking a legal reassignment of their gender from male to female, or vice versa has to go through a lengthy process first. Prior to 2017, trans people underwent a period of supervision in a mental institution before they could begin transitioning. While that requirement has been discontinued people seeking gender reassignment still undergo outpatient psychiatric examination prior to approval and they must undergo “irreversible medical intervention” as well. Those in the midst of this process don’t have the documentation that says they are officially female and are being turned back at the border and told to join the army and fight.
Claims of Russian Atrocities Against Civilians
As Russian forces withdraw and Ukrainian forces advance, there are increasing reports that are finding evidence of atrocities committed against civilians. We have sources in Ukraine sending us pictures like the above and what follows below. The individuals above appear to be all male, none of them are in military uniforms. The picture was not taken on an apparent battlefield, nor are there any signs they were killed by a bomb, rocket, or artillery shell. At least three are stripped to the waist in spite of the cold. One has his hands bound behind him with white tape. We think there are at least 9 bodies present. We see no signs that it was staged or photoshopped. They appear to have been executed. We are told these bodies were found in Bucha which is just northwest of Kyiv by advancing Ukrainian forces after Russian troops pulled out.
On March 23 Olga Sukhenko, the mayor of the village of Motyzhin 10 miles west of Kyiv went missing with her husband and son. Ukrainian forces are claiming their bodies were found in a shallow grave, with her husband’s body was thrown down a storm drain. All were said to have signs of being tortured before their deaths. The body of the person wearing blue jeans has his hands tied behind his back. The man in the storm drain has something tightly tied around his neck.
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