According to court papers, more than 100 Russian national guardsmen were sacked for refusing to fight in Ukraine, in what appears to be the strongest sign yet of opposition within security forces over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The cases of the 115 national guardsmen, also known as Rosgvardia, were made public on Wednesday after a local Russian court dismissed their collective complaint challenging their previous dismissal.
The complaint was rejected when the judge ruled that the troops were lawfully sacked for “refusing to complete an official assignment” to fight in Ukraine and instead returned to a duty station, according to the court’s judgment, which was published on its website.
The appeal took place in Nalchik, the capital of the Russian Caucasus’ Kabardino-Balkarian region, where the regiment is located.
Moscow’s military has been beset by low morale since its invasion of Ukraine, with tales of soldiers stating they had no idea they were heading to war until they crossed into Ukraine.
This month, the Pentagon said it had received “anecdotal reports” that “mid-grade officers at various levels, even up to the battalion level,” had “either refused to obey orders” or were not obeying them with the “alacrity” expected.
Given the intricacy of the case, Andrei Sabinin, the lawyer who defended the 115 troops, said the court’s ruling was “unprecedentedly rapid.”
“I have reservations about the overall fairness of the procedure because my clients were refused the right to call certain witnesses and the court rejected many documents.”
The commanders of the Rosgvardia unit, according to Sabinin, offered the soldiers the option of not fighting, and their dismissal was illegal.
To combat terrorism and preserve public order, Russia established Rosgvardia, a militarized force independent from the army, in 2016. Members of Rosgvardia, also known as Vladimir Putin’s “private army,” have mostly been involved in crackdowns on peaceful anti-government protests since its inception.
According to military analysts, Russia’s heavy use of Rosgvardia soldiers in Ukraine is linked to Moscow’s strategic goals of capturing and holding major Ukrainian cities such as Kharkiv and Kyiv. These plans fell through, and Rosgvardia units suffered heavy losses as a result of Ukrainian cities remaining battlegrounds rather than being captured by Russia, leaving Rosgvardia units vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks.
Rosgvardia’s role in Ukraine is revealed further in documents obtained by the Guardian on Friday from a separate criminal case against a Siberian journalist.
Last month, security agents detained Mikhail Afanasyev, the top editor of Novy Fokus in the Russian territory of Khakassia, for reporting about a different Rosgvardia unit that similarly denied deployment to Ukraine.
Members of the Rosgvardia unit named in Afanasyev’s reporting testified in court, confirming previous accounts that 11 Rosgvardia from Khakassia declined to combat.
The statements also lend credence to claims that the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine began as a blitzkrieg offensive on Kyiv with the goal of conquering the Ukrainian capital.
A Roskgvardia soldier testified to the court that three days before the invasion, his commander told his unit that they would be dispatched to Ukraine to “patrol the streets and crossroads of Kyiv.”
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“During the special operation in Ukraine, all personnel of the national guard and Russian military forces were assigned particular missions, according to the commander.” The mission of our detachment, as well as all the other detachments stationed alongside us, was to patrol Kyiv’s streets and crossroads,” according to the evidence obtained by the Guardian.
Tayga.info, a regional independent news organization, was the first to publish on the contents of the court records.
After encountering stiff Ukrainian opposition a month into the war, Moscow was compelled to shift its attack to more limited goals, with the army prioritizing “liberation” of the Donbas area.
Despite a recent spate of military victories in the Donbas, the Kremlin was hit this week by two unusual public outbursts from Russian leaders.
Boris Bondarev, a career diplomat assigned to Russia’s UN mission in Geneva, became the highest-ranking Russian official to condemn the war on Wednesday, posting a blistering letter in which he said he was “ashamed” of his nation and branded the invasion a “disaster.” Two communist MPs from the Khabarovsky Krai in Siberia’s far east urged Putin to halt the Ukraine crisis on Friday.
According to a video of the discussion, MP Leonid Vasyukevich warned, “If our government does not end the military operation, there will be even more orphans in our country.”
“People get crippled during military operations.” He went on to say, “These are young individuals that may be very useful to our country.” “We demand that Russian forces leave immediately.”