Russian’s Vladimir Putin sparked the wrath of his own people by drafting hundreds of thousands to join the war against Ukraine, and now it seems some of those men were sent not to fight the so-called “enemy” but to “snuff out” any of the Russian troops who dare to retreat.
Ukrainian intelligence on Thursday released an audio recording that appears to capture in disturbing detail the mayhem and internal rifts between Russian troops on the battlefield. In the five-minute clip, described as an intercepted phone conversation between a Russian soldier and his wife, the man says he and the other men in his unit are a comfortable distance from the actual fighting.
“They moved us back to the second line, there’s shooting somewhere ahead of us, but we’re back here for now in the trenches,” he says, before boasting that he’d been lucky and found a “Rosneft jacket covered in blood, but warm.”
“They brought the inmates here… from prison. But they led them somewhere way up front. And we’re sitting here as a retreat-blocking detachment, fuck. If someone runs back, we snuff them out.”
“What a nightmare,” his wife says.
“That’s how we have it set up. We sit on the second line, guarding the first. Behind us, there’s another line. If you go that way, you also won’t make it. So it’s impossible to run away. They shoot their own.”
“If someone goes [that way], you need to wipe him out,” he said.
While both the purported soldier and his wife suggested they’d tried to complain about conditions with appeals to an unspecified “committee,” the man seemed convinced any kind of outcry would be futile, noting that Russian defense officials had cleverly listed him and other men in his unit as being “in training” and not on the battlefield.
It was not clear where exactly the soldier was based. But there have been myriad reports of Russian commanders threatening to execute any of their own men who try to ditch the war. A Moscow resident who was called up under Putin’s draft last month said Colonel General Alexander Lapin had personally pulled out a pistol and held it to the head of a commander overseeing drafted troops who’d retreated in Luhansk, threatening to shoot if the unit did not return to the frontline, Sota reported Wednesday.
And amid a humiliating retreat from northern Kharkiv last month, a volunteer fighting for Ukraine in the region who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity said his fellow volunteers and Ukrainian troops had found several dead Russian commanders with gunshot wounds to the back of their heads after top Russian military brass gave an order to gun down any fleeing troops.
While Russia has bolstered forces with thousands of newly drafted soldiers and prison inmates recruited by the Wagner Group, it would seem those reinforcements have only added to the dysfunction among the ranks.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported earlier this month that Russian inmates freed from prison to fight regularly “leave their units and try to return to Russian territory” after receiving their weapons. While the inmates are enticed by promises of a pardon, Putin crony Yevgeny Prighozin, the man behind the Wagner Group’s prisoner-recruitment scheme, is said to have privately told the Russian president that “for the majority of inmates joining Wagner, it’s not a reprieve but a death sentence,” according to Yellow Folder, a Telegram channel ostensibly run by former members of Russia’s Federal Protective Services.
And in occupied Donetsk, Putin’s troops appear to be hard at work battling each other. A man identified by Ukrainian intelligence as a Russian soldier was caught calling his mother to tell her how another soldier sent with “reinforcements” was tied up and held for ransom by fighters for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.
“He went into the city, basically, for moonshine… The commandants bashed him over the head and locked him in a basement. They sent photos [of him] to his… mother-in-law and wife. Tied him up basically and demanded money, as if he were a captive.”
“Good God! They thought he was Ukrainian, right?” his mother asked.
“They didn’t think anything,” he said, adding: “It’s fun here with us.”