A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 19, 2022

As Ukraine War Goes Badly, Armed Russian Factions Begin To Jockey For Power

They are not just fighting the Ukrainians, Russia's various private - and national - armies are beginning to fight each other. 

As painful retreats in Ukraine become the norm, Russian units are fighting each other over evacuation space, new weapons and loot. But in Russia itself, the factions - regular army, national police, intelligence agencies, regional units and mercenary armies - are all preparing to battle each other on behalf of their leaders should Putin be removed. JL 

Nadin Brzezinski reports in Medium:

Losing the war, Putin is losing legitimacy and influence. The situation is approaching the chaos of the “late Yeltsin.” Armies that lack cohesion, logistics, and morale are armies on edge. Withdrawing Russian troops are already fighting each other in the field. Oligarchs are forming their own Private Military Contractors, (or) private armies. Within the army it is regional units against the regular army. Then we see the FSB (whose fifth directorate Putin blamed for the mess) versus the National Guard, the OMON special SWAT units and GRU military intelligence. (Add Prigozhin's) Wagner and other mercenary units and it looks like all the divisions are ready for trouble.

We know that there is tension among Russian troops. We also know they come from different places in society. It’s not just the army, or the National Guard (Rosgvardya), or the Private Military Contractors, chief among them Wagner.

The tension is also within the army, the regional battalions, chief among them Ramzan Kardirov’s troops, and others. Over the weekend we saw a firefight in Kherson between Kadirovites, FSB, and Wagner Mercenaries. Russians tried to pass this as Ukrainian special forces, near the train station.

Kherson is increasingly under Ukrainian pressure. It’s also having issues with supplies. So a guess here is that a train either had some supplies or was rumored to. Regardless, three formations not under a unified command decided to fight over it. This is based on location and nothing else. Here, are two versions via Telegram. First:

Mercenaries of the Wagner PMC staged a riot in Kherson, Kadirov tried to calm them down

The day before, on September 17, there was a shooting in temporarily occupied Kherson. According to the information of the Ukrainian special services, Kadirov soldiers and mercenaries of PMK Wagner, who were recently recruited by the owner of this private military company in Russian prisons and colonies and who committed a riot, were shooting each other.

the occupiers cannot in any way divide the “spheres of influence” in the occupied territories of Ukraine, they increasingly resort to weapons to resolve “disputes”


Yesterday in Kherson there was a shooting between PMC mercenaries, convicts of the Russian Federation, “Kadyrovtsy” and the FSB.

“The parties aggressively divided the loot before the escape against the backdrop of news about the approach of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” said Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Presidential Office.

Now, why does this matter? First, there is no unity in either mission or command. This is starting to look like every man for himself. Or at least this seems to be the case at the unit level.

Armies that lack cohesion, logistics, and morale are armies on the edge. This is not the first time either, just the most serious. Then there is this. Russia is not decompressing troops when they go back to the Federation, with predictable results:

I, bitch, fought for your country!” The participants of the “special operation” returned to Russia and went into trouble

On September 16, a mercenary of Wagner’s PMC attacked the Russian Guards in a hotel in Voronezh. A man with the call sign “Marlin” recently returned from the DPR. During the search, 476 cartridges were found in his possession and a criminal case was opened. This is not the first case when those returning from “special operations” break the law.

In Tula, a war participant had a fight in a pizzeria and beat its director with a chair. And near Smolensk, a lieutenant made an armed raid on a sanatorium where refugees and their children live. By his own admission, he killed people during the war.

In Bryansk, a participant of the SVO was convicted of hazing. The company commander was dissatisfied with his subordinates, beat him and tried to strangle him. The court fined him 50 thousand.

Another participant in the war was caught by the security forces with live grenades. A 53-year-old Russian man was detained at Yekaterinburg train station. The man explained that he had brought ammunition from the battlefield.

In the Belgorod region, cases of rape by soldiers who arrived on rotation have become more frequent.

In earlier wars, armies had time to decompress. Going from the battlefield to home took time. US Troops, for example, took time to go from Germany to home. Red Army troops took time as well, partially for other reasons.

Both Vietnam and Afghanistan broke this pattern because of modern transportation. I use Vietnam as an example because American troops were despised by many a civilian. Soviet troops coming home from Afghanistan came back to an uncaring country. Once the pullout happened it was a very unpopular war. Soldiers at times joined the criminal underground because that was all the work they could find.

A lot of the drinking started in the field. We have evidence this is happening again.

This was the pattern after many of these troops came home:

As captain of a Soviet tank battalion in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Valery Guskov knows the flavor of war — and the bitter taste of defeat.

“It was very difficult for most of us to come back to civilized life, and in Afghanistan my view of the world changed,” he says, his three gold front teeth flashing.

Since the Soviet Union’s humiliating retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, the subsequent neglect of veterans within society has often led to alcoholism, drug abuse, and organized crime.

Are we going to see history repeat? I am going to argue we already are. Withdrawing Russian troops though has another problem. While technically all are veterans, including the reporters covering the war, they all are part of different organizations. They are already fighting each other in the field.

As things continue to fall apart from sanctions and isolation, camps have formed. It does not help that Vladimir Putin reportedly told oligarchs to form their own Private Military Contractors, PMCs for short, units. In other words, private armies.

As far as I can tell within the army it is the regional units against the regular army. Why we have had firefights between Kadirovites and Tuvan regular army units. Nationalists, some part of the Rushist movement, fear that more of these units mean the scourge of local nationalism will rise.

Then we see the FSB and the National Guard. They have different interests at an institutional level. Putin blamed the fifth directorate of the FSB for this mess, so there is little love lost. Then the OMON, essentially special SWAT units. Add to the mix the GRU, which is related to military intelligence. The GRU is also involved in active measures abroad, like in the US.

And if things were not bad enough, chiefly Warner, but merc units in general. It looks like all the divisions are ready for an age of trouble. I am not the only one who sees this. Russians do as well. according to MO:

Losing the war, Putin is rapidly losing his rating, legitimacy and influence on officials. The situation is approaching the chaos of the “late Yeltsin”: the power vertical will begin to crumble, political analyst Abbas Gallyamov, a former official of the Presidential Administration and Putin’s speechwriter, predicts in a column for MO.

The collective appeal of 65 municipal deputies of the two capitals, who accused Putin of treason and demanded his resignation, is only the first sign. Leaders of friendly states are increasingly late for a meeting with him: there were already three such episodes at the September summit.

“The countdown is already underway,” writes Abbas Gallyamov. “Putin’s legitimacy is weakening, soon his rating will not be much higher than that of Yeltsin at the end of his reign.”

In this context, having different groups within the state fighting already makes sense. The 1990s were filled with literal gang warfare, and car bombings. The legacy of Putin will be a dark one.


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