NewsRussian soldiers set records for desertion

Russian soldiers set records for desertion

Russian soldiers set records for desertion
Images source: © Ministerstwo Obrony Federacji Rosyjskiej | Ministerstwo Obrony Federacji Rosyjskiej

4:06 AM EST, December 11, 2023

Desertion is occurring en masse on both sides of the front line, but Russian soldiers are setting records in their flight, even taking their weapons with them. Many are apprehended, and some are now prisoners whom the Kremlin considers traitors. At present, there are 4,121 criminal charges laid against deserters.

In the Russian Federation, utilizing the term 'war' to describe the conflict in Ukraine is prohibited. Likewise, protesting against the conflict, spreading misinformation about its advancements, or defaming the Russian Federation's Armed Forces are also forbidden. This could result in penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Surrender carries the same threat of punishment.

Vladimir Putin has instituted a law that seems to be a direct excerpt from Stalin's rule. As stated in the Soviet Criminal Code, Article 193, Paragraph 22: "Abandoning combat positions or surrendering to the enemy without a direct order from the commanding officer is punishable by execution by firing squad."

Stalin himself emphasized this in 1942, with his Order No. 227, better known as "Not a Step Back!" His decree read: "We can no longer endure situations where commanders, political commissars, and soldiers of units exceed their authority abandoning their combat positions, nor can we allow a minority of deserters to dictate combat conditions. Deserters and cowards should be eliminated on the spot."

However, Putin appears to be "merciful". Desertion is not punishable by death. This is possible because, officially, the Kremlin is not at war. The law was quickly amended in September 2022, just before "partial mobilization". The concern was that the conscripts could be reluctant to engage in an unpopular conflict. They were proven right.

Following the announcement of the mobilization, online advertisements started offering the service of pain-free broken arms for roughly $20-$34, so as to avoid frontline service. This situation has resulted in over 100,000 convicts being sent to war.

The Extent of Desertion

Russian officials do not formally disclose the number of soldiers that have been captured. Ukrainians also maintain a discreet stance, only mentioning "thousands of prisoners" and the hardships encountered while seeking suitable detention facilities for them. Yet, some understanding of the desertion issue can be inferred through the work of Russian NGOs offering legal assistance to deserters.

According to activists from the organization 'Go to the Forest', they saw 577 people seeking help in October, out of which 218 were soldiers who deserted within that month.

Reports from Mediazona suggest that there are currently 4,121 cases against deserters, including those who returned to Russia under prisoner exchanges.

To date, 3,470 verdicts have been handed down. The highest was in August, when 457 verdicts were issued, of which 317 people were convicted for disobedience and 96 for desertion.

The majority of deserters originate from the three wealthiest regions of the Russian Federation. Moscow courts have issued 309 rulings, Rostov's 224, and St. Petersburg's 116.

In contrast, the poorest regions and republics have seen only occasional rulings. Interestingly, a great majority of the sentences have been suspended. As a result, the convicts were swiftly sent back to the front lines to serve in penal battalions, much like in Stalin's era.

Minimal Sentences

The imposition of light sentences is a surprise. The army prefers to send a deserter back to the front line rather than to jail. The Russians' high losses make even convicts a valuable resource. Therefore, over 90% of penalties are suspended and won't exceed five years.

The Moscow 253rd Garrison Military Court sentenced Murad Askerov, a Senior Sergeant and Motorized Rifle Platoon Commander, to five years of probation under the condition that he return to his frontline duty. If he were to refuse, he would be sent directly to a penal colony. However, he chose to return to the front for financial reasons and his previous experience, as he had been fighting for more than a year at the time of his desertion in Ukraine.

One deserter, Zorigto Abrazhayev, rejected the possibility of returning to the frontline and went home, forged his death certificate, and tried to claim his own death compensation fraudulently. As a result, he was sentenced to five years in a penal colony. Because of his added fraudulent attempts, he was not given the option of a suspended sentence.

For a harsher sentence, one must either commit multiple crimes or run away from the front frequently. Yevgeny Zelenkov gained a record when he was given a nine-year sentence for deserting a marine infantry unit five times.

Regarding additional offenses related to desertion, the severest sentence was given to Senior Sergeant Ivan Kostariev, who was sentenced to thirteen years in prison for desertion and leading a drug-trafficking group. Military courts are particularly severe with ex-prisoners and deserters who commit crimes while being absent without leave.

More Desertions Expected

The scale of desertion has been increasing since the war began, particularly after the first wave of conscription in autumn 2022. A slight decrease was noted in spring 2022 when weather conditions improved. In June, only 54 deserters contacted NGOs for assistance. The colder weather brought an increase in desertion.

This trend is especially notable among drafted and mobilized reservists, particularly young soldiers who'd already established their lives. They refuse to risk death. According to the Russian division of BBC, these young men have already suffered 4,400 fatalities. Their widows protest, but to no avail, as they are arrested, and their assemblies dispersed.

Currently, the Russian Federation's Armed Forces are conscripting around 20,000 reservists each month even though the official second wave of mobilization ended at the start of November. Andriy Yusov, Press officer of Ukraine's Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate, stated that the Ukrainian army anticipates a further surge in voluntary surrenders and desertions. Up until now, no punishments have discouraged Russians from prioritizing their survival.

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