A Blog by Jonathan Low


Aug 1, 2022

Why Do So Many Russian Soldiers In Ukraine Quit?

OK, it might on the surface seem obvious: because their equipment is bad, they have little or no training, their commanders treat them like cannon fodder and they are being slaughtered. 

But it turns out there is quite a lot of detail supporting that reasoning which makes it remarkable that they have lasted as long as they have. JL 

Chris O reports in Twitter:

After the invasion started the invasion force was badly prepared, but weeks and months afterwards, problems have persisted. "I have been to shooting practice four times, where I fired 6 rounds. To do it properly, needs a whole magazine, 30 rounds! Target shooting with 6 rounds is a mockery of military training!!!" Endemic corruption means officers steal resources meant for training exercises, or divert conscripts into building houses for senior officers. "We were not given sleeping bags or ammo pouches." Col Gen Mikhailov stated 30% of men conscripted were "mentally unstable," 10% suffered from alcohol and drug abuse, and 15% were ill or malnourished.It's unusual that Russian soldiers *can* quit on the battlefield, but the reason it's possible is that Putin doesn't want a full mobilisation. He's playing by peacetime rules. "Contract soldiers" can resign from their contracts at any time, though they can be penalised.


In contrast, Ukrainian soldiers are under full military discipline because the country is undergoing mobilisation and is under martial law. They don't get to walk away. So Russia has two mobilisation disadvantages – in both recruiting and keeping its soldiers.


After the invasion started on 24 February. The invasion force was notoriously badly prepared, but even weeks and months afterwards, many problems seem to have persisted. Viktor Shyaga, a Russian contract soldier who jointed the army in March 2022 and fought in Ukraine in April-May 2022, has written a LiveJournal account of his experiences in Ukraine. He says that he was barely trained, either as a former conscript or as a contract soldier.


"During the [earlier] conscription service, I have been to shooting practice four times, where each time I fired 6 rounds. Since school, when in the 10th grade we went to military training camps for two weeks, I was amazed, perplexed and surprised – why is it so?! Why are we only allowed to fire 6 rounds? Indeed, in order to ‘feel’ the assault rifle you need at least 15 rounds in a magazine, so the person could shoot 2-4 single rounds and then try bursts of 4-5 rounds. Yet to do it properly, of course everyone needs a whole magazine – 30 rounds! My opinion is that the target shooting with 6 rounds which is en-masse used in Russians army ... is just a mockery of military training!!!"


Russian soldiers have previously described receiving only perfunctory training. As well as military instructors being of extremely variable quality, commanders also have personal financial incentives to cut short or abandon training entirely.Endemic corruption has meant that commanders often steal the resources meant to pay for training exercises, or divert conscripts into activities such as building houses or carrying out factory work for senior officers and their 'biznesmen' friends.
When Shyaga enlisted as a contract soldier in March 2022, he was told that he would go on "accelerated survival training courses" lasting 2 weeks, to "teach me up a little bit, teach how to fire from everything – from a grenade launcher, machine gun, sniper rifle"Instead, he says, "this all turned out to be a lie. None of us (22 people) were taught anything. We were not even allowed to try our weapons." When he received his equipment in April, "I couldn’t even remember how to set single or burst fire mode" on his assault rifle.


"So when I received my assault rifle in the afternoon of 6 April, being sure that on the 7th we could already end up in Ukraine, I asked the duty officer who was issuing assault rifles to us – ‘where is the single fire mode?’. This is [all] the training that I’ve had.He was not the only one lacking training. Another man was given a PKM machine gun but had no idea how to load it. Shyaga tried unsuccessfully to help. "I asked the guy – ‘did the round go in to the barrel?’. I personally did not know how to insert the machine gun belt in."


"I just knew how to take it off the safety and shoot. The guy said he had no idea and that they told him in his unit (in Valuyki) that he would be a driver. I called our starshina [first sergeant]. He tried to put the round into the barrel but failed. The machine gun jammed.""Then our senior praporschik [ensign] came, who fought in Chechnya. It took him two minutes to load the machine gun. He did it." This is quite a revealing anecdote, as it highlights not only a lack of training but the Russian army's lack of an NCO corps. As 's Maj Gen Frank Mckenzie has said, the Russians don't have "the middle management level; the NCO and staff non-commissioned officer level that really form the backbone of our military. They’re the people that actually ensure things get done".


Shyaga's unit had to rely on a career soldier, likely well into his 40s, who had previous combat experience. Such an individual should have been focusing on helping to organise operations, but instead had to spend time teaching his men the basics on the battlefield itself.A lack of training also affects soldiers' ability to cope with the physical demands of combat. Shyaga witnessed that problem too: "That fella who was given a machine gun, he was 38 years old and not really used to physical activity.He was very exhausted from marching and running around with a machine gun, an assault rifle and an armoured vest, and his heart started aching." Again, this tracks with previous accounts of widespread health problems with new recruits.For instance, Air Force Col Gen Vladimir Mikhailov stated in 2007 that more than 30% of the 11,000 men conscripted annually into the Russian Air Force were "mentally unstable," 10 percent suffered from alcohol and drug abuse, and 15 percent were ill or malnourished.


Shyaga's account suggests that the Russian army's desperation for manpower is such that basic health checks are being neglected. "Those volunteer contractors who came after us, many of them (if not all) did not even pass the medical examination."Probably due to the same desperate need for manpower, many of Shyaga's comrades were put into roles for which they were unqualified and untrained. They were told, falsely, that they wouldn't be put on the front lines:"I have personally heard, how in the regional contract selection office one of the instructors was blatantly lying to a grown man that they needed a driver to chauffeur the division commander, having previously found whether he had a B or C driving license level.


He did it because no one wanted to be a driver since they were very often killed. Also, speaking to guys from other regions of Russia I found that many were told in the enlistment offices that they would not be serving on the frontlines ...but will be the second echelon troops guarding checkpoints, escorting convoys, guarding cities and villages in rears already taken by us."


Shyaga says that everyone was thrown into the infantry, even specialists who were meant to be in reconnaissance or rear units. They were all "shoved in to be riflemen and machine gunners, and also grenade launchers at the frontline in motorised companies."Shyaga also notes problems with his unit's equipment, which "was not the best – we were not given sleeping bags or ammo pouches." Problems like this are often due to corruption – Russian depot soldiers often steal equipment to sell via Avito, Russia's equivalent of eBay.Theft of supplies was something that Shyaga experienced back home in Russia, where "every man and his dog" was stealing: "conscripts who were delivering [food] to our unit in Ukraine stole from it three crates of canned meat and sold it in our unit for 70 rubles each.""I also personally saw how in the regiment’s headquarters, a woman who worked there was eating 'Roshen' candy from a big crate. As far as I understand that was meant to go straight to the frontlines, but it never did."


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