Russia struggles to replenish its troops in Ukraine

Aug 10, 2022, 11:23 AM | Updated: Aug 11, 2022, 5:33 am
People walk past a billboard reading "Sign up for contract service" encouraging Russians to sign up...

People walk past a billboard reading "Sign up for contract service" encouraging Russians to sign up for the Tiger volunteer battalion, at the far-eastern Primorye region in a street of Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. Colorful billboards and ads on public transport in different Russian regions state that "heroes are wanted" and urge Russian men to join the professional army ranks. (AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

The prisoners at the penal colony in St. Petersburg were expecting a visit by officials, thinking it would be some sort of inspection. Instead, men in uniform arrived and offered them amnesty — if they agreed to fight alongside the Russian army in Ukraine.

Over the following days, about a dozen or so left the prison, according to a woman whose boyfriend is serving a sentence there. Speaking on condition of anonymity because she feared reprisals, she said her boyfriend wasn’t among the volunteers, although with years left on his sentence, he “couldn’t not think about it.”

As Russia continues to suffer losses in its invasion of Ukraine, now nearing its sixth month, the Kremlin has refused to announce a full-blown mobilization — a move that could be very unpopular for President Vladimir Putin. That has led instead to a covert recruitment effort that includes using prisoners to make up the manpower shortage.

This also is happening amid reports that hundreds of Russian soldiers are refusing to fight and trying to quit the military.

“We’re seeing a huge outflow of people who want to leave the war zone — those who have been serving for a long time and those who have signed a contract just recently,” said Alexei Tabalov, a lawyer who runs the Conscript’s School legal aid group.

The group has seen an influx of requests from men who want to terminate their contracts, “and I personally get the impression that everyone who can is ready to run away,” Tabalov said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And the Defense Ministry is digging deep to find those it can persuade to serve.”

Although the Defense Ministry denies that any “mobilization activities” are taking place, authorities seem to be pulling out all the stops to bolster enlistment. Billboards and public transit ads in various regions proclaim, “This is The Job,” urging men to join the professional army. Authorities have set up mobile recruiting centers in some cities, including one at the site of a half marathon in Siberia in May.

Regional administrations are forming “volunteer battalions” that are promoted on state television. The business daily Kommersant counted at least 40 such entities in 20 regions, with officials promising volunteers monthly salaries ranging from the equivalent of $2,150 to nearly $5,500, plus bonuses.

The AP saw thousands of openings on job search websites for various military specialists.

The British military said this week that Russia had formed a major new ground force called the 3rd Army Corps from “volunteer battalions,” seeking men up to age 50 and requiring only a middle-school education, while offering “lucrative cash bonuses” once they are deployed to Ukraine.

But complaints also are surfacing in the media that some aren’t getting their promised payments, although those reports can’t be independently verified.

In early August, Tabalov said he began receiving multiple requests for legal help from reservists who have been ordered to take part in a two-month training in areas near the border with Ukraine.

The recruitment of prisoners has been going on in recent weeks in as many as seven regions, said Vladimir Osechkin, founder of the Gulagu.net prisoner rights group, citing inmates and their relatives that his group had contacted.

It’s not the first time that authorities have used such a tactic, with the Soviet Union employing “prisoner battalions” during World War II.

Nor is Russia alone. Early in the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised amnesty to military veterans behind bars if they volunteered to fight, although it remains unclear if anything came out of it.

In the current circumstances, Osechkin said, it isn’t the Defense Ministry that’s recruiting prisoners — instead, it was Russia’s shadowy private military force, the Wagner Group.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, an entrepreneur known as “Putin’s chef” because of his catering contracts with the Kremlin and reportedly Wagner’s manager and financier, brushed aside reports that he personally visited prisons to recruit convicts, in a written statement released by his representatives this month. Prigozhin, in fact, denies he has any ties to Wagner, which reportedly has sent military contractors to places like Syria and sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Osechkin, prisoners with military or law enforcement experience were initially offered to go to Ukraine, but that later was extended to inmates with varying backgrounds. He estimated that as of late July, about 1,500 might have applied, lured by promises of big salaries and eventual pardons.

Now, he added, many of those volunteers — or their families — are contacting him and seeking to get out of their commitments, telling him: “I really don’t want to go.”

According to the woman whose boyfriend is serving his sentence at the penal colony in St. Petersburg, the offers to leave the prison are “a glimmer of hope” for freedom. But she said he told her that of 11 volunteers, eight died in Ukraine. She added that one of the volunteers expressed regret for his decision and doesn’t believe he will return alive.

Her account couldn’t be independently verified, but was in line with multiple reports by independent Russian media and human rights groups.

According to those groups and military lawyers, some soldiers and law enforcement officers have refused deployment to Ukraine or are trying to return home after a few weeks or months of fighting.

Media reports about some troops refusing to fight in Ukraine started surfacing in the spring, but rights groups and lawyers only began talking about the number of refusals reaching the hundreds last month.

In mid-July, the Free Buryatia Foundation reported that about 150 men were able to terminate their contracts with the Defense Ministry and returned from Ukraine to Buryatia, a region in eastern Siberia that borders Mongolia.

Some of the servicemen are facing repercussions. Tabalov, the legal aid lawyer, said about 80 other soldiers who sought to nullify their contracts were detained in the Russian-controlled town of Bryanka in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, according to their relatives. Last week, he said that the Bryanka detention center was shut down because of the media attention.

But the parent of one officer who was detained after trying to get out of his contract told the AP this week that some are still being detained elsewhere in the region. The parent asked not to be identified out of safety concerns.

Tabalov said a serviceman can terminate his contract for a compelling reason — normally not difficult — although the decision is usually up to his commander. But he added: “In the conditions of hostilities, not a single commander would acknowledge anything like that, because where would they find people to fight?”

Alexandra Garmazhapova, head of the Free Buryatia Foundation, told the AP that soldiers and their relatives complain of commanders tearing up termination notices and threatening “refuseniks” with prosecution. As of late July, the foundation said it had received hundreds of requests from soldiers seeking to end their contracts.

“I’m getting messages every day,” Garmazhapova said.

Tabalov said some soldiers complain that they were deceived about where they were going and didn’t expect to end up in a war zone, while others are exhausted from fighting and unable to continue.

Rarely, if at all, did they appear motivated by antiwar convictions, the lawyer said.

Russia will continue to face problems with soldiers refusing to fight, military analyst Michael Kofman said, but one shouldn’t underestimate Russia’s ability to “muddle through … with half-measures.”

“They’re going to have a lot of people who are quitting or have people who basically don’t want to deploy,” said Kofman, director of the Virginia-based Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, on a recent podcast. “And they’ve employed a lot of measures to try to keep people in line. But ultimately, there’s not that much that they can do.”

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss arrives to attend the Conservative Party conference at the ICC, ...
Associated Press

UK’s Truss sticks by economic plan as her party worries

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss said Sunday that she could have done a better job “laying the ground” for her package of unfunded tax cuts, but insisted she would push on with an economic plan that has caused turmoil on financial markets and weakened the country’s public finances. Truss acknowledged that the […]
1 day ago
Latvian Prime Minister and Head of board of leading political party Jauna Vienotiba (New Unity) Kri...
Associated Press

Latvian premier’s party emerges on top in general election

HELSINKI (AP) — Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins’ ruling center-right party won the most votes in Latvia’s general election, centrist parties were runners-up and pro-Moscow parties crashed in a vote that was shaped by neighboring Russia’s war in Ukraine and divisions among the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic Russian minority. With more than 97% of the votes […]
1 day ago
Ukrainian servicemen drive a tank on the way to Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 1,...
Associated Press

Ukraine presses counteroffensive after Russian setback

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia attacked the Ukrainian president’s hometown with suicide drones on Sunday, and Ukraine pushed ahead with its counteroffensive after taking back control of a strategic eastern city. Russia’s loss of Lyman, which it had been using as a transport and logistics hub, is a new blow to the Kremlin as it […]
1 day ago
Police cars wrecked in soccer riots are seen on the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Jav...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: What’s behind Indonesia’s deadly soccer match?

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Violence and a deadly stampede that erupted following a domestic league soccer match Saturday night marked another tragedy in Indonesian football. Here’s a look at how the chaos occurred and what is being done to prevent future incidents. ___ HOW DID THE CHAOS OCCUR? Chaos broke out after Persebaya Surabaya defeated […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Military: Gunmen kill Pakistani UN peacekeeper in east Congo

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani soldier serving as a U.N. peacekeeper in the Democratic Republic of Congo was killed in a militant attack in the country’s volatile east, the military said. A group of six militants reached the United Nations’ permanent operation base in the district of Minembwe, ostensibly to surrender their weapons as part […]
1 day ago
Buddhist monks perform rituals during the funeral of famed American extreme skier Hilaree Nelson in...
Associated Press

Famed US extreme skier gets traditional Nepalese funeral

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — A famed extreme skier from the United States who was killed after falling from one of the world’s tallest mountains was on Sunday given a traditional funeral at a Sherpa cremation ground as Buddhist monks officiated over a ceremony attended by family, friends and government officials. Hilaree Nelson, 49, fell off […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Russia struggles to replenish its troops in Ukraine