Russian Desertion: The Instability of the Russian Military and the Freedom for Russia Brigade
The last few months has seen violence unleashed in Europe on a scale that arguably hasn’t been seen since the Second World War, or at least since the 1990s. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been met with more resistance both militarily and politically than Putin’s regime had expected. From mass protests and Moscow to the stern resistance of freedom fighters in Kyiv, people around the world have unified against the standing government in Russia. Reports from the Pentagon state that “morale is a growing problem inside the Russian forces that are fighting in Ukraine,” a Pentagon spokesperson said. To make the problem even worse the same statement reported that the military was lacking food, fuel, and the average soldier was underequipped and overworked.
In Russia itself we saw large scale protests breaking out throughout the major cities as people rallied against the standing government making demands of peace and the liberalization of Russian policies. A new symbol had been introduced to the Russian people as well, the white-blue-white flag, a remaking of the original Russian flag without the red in which the protestors claimed to represent tyranny. This symbol has been seen inside of Russia as well as in the international Russian community who have largely condemned the war and use this as their freedom symbol.
Before the invasion began the Russian Ministry of Defense whose website has either been shut down or banned in western countries had claimed their troop movements were simply intended as a training exercise. While in hindsight this was absolute nonsense, many of the Russian soldiers had believed the exact same thing, they were there to train. This left many of them underprepared for being in actual combat and the brutal realities they would have to face in the Ukraine. Knowing all these factors, an underprepared, underequipped, and low moral army facing a dedicated and well-equipped enemy is a disaster waiting to happen. It comes as no surprise then that there have been many instances of desertion, low-moral, and surrenders as they failed to gain any real holds in the Ukrainian heartland.
In the early stages of the war the Ukrainian government capitalized on these failures to begin the stages of a phase of the psychological warfare against the average Russian soldier. Their Ministry of Defense posted on their Twitter and Facebook offering 5 million Rubles (roughly 87 thousand USD now) and amnesty for any Russian soldier who willingly becomes a POW back in late February and early March. These efforts were ramped up during an April 1st statement by the Ukrainian parliament to offer larger bounties on both individual soldiers who turn themselves in as well as those who turn over their equipment as well. The highest being 1st or 2nd class ships and fighter/assault aircraft for 1 million USD. While it is unclear whether or not this tactic worked and we will likely not know until the end of the war, there have been plenty of unconfirmed cases claimed by the Ukrainian government of Russian soldiers choosing to become POWs instead of fighting.
What we do know is that some Russian soldiers have gone as far as to now fight for the Ukrainian government against the Russians. In a video conference presented to journalists three men in balaclavas sporting the aforementioned white-blue-white flag claim to have been former Russian soldiers who have begun to assemble a new military unit, the Freedom For Russia Brigade. One the men claimed to have been a POW who was released and decided to join the Ukrainian military while another claimed to be a former Sergeant in the Russian Special Forces. In what can be assumed to be for safety reasons, the men’s identities have been hidden but their message has not. The reasoning behind their decision was outlined as follows, fighting against the genocide and massacres at Bucha, the intentional looting of civilian homes and businesses, as well as being de-indoctrinated to Russian propaganda. While they declined to say their precise numbers, it is estimated that it is in the tens, while hundreds or thousands have decided to surrender. The people who are members of this group are claimed to be Russians living in Ukraine, defectors, and even POWs who had decided to change their allegiance during their imprisonment. This formation even in a small scale must be a worrying sign to Moscow, as desertion in war is extremely common, but defection to fight for the other side is a massively destabilizing and demoralizing prospect for the Russian military.