Russian national guardsmen have refused to fight in the war in Ukraine that Vladimir Putin recently launched, showcasing the logistical failures that have plagued Putin’s forces throughout the conflict. Information on Russian guardsmen resisting demands to join the fighting came through Russian lawyer Mikhail Benyash, who revealed he’d be representing a group of those individuals and was subsequently “inundated” with calls, per the Financial Times. According to Benyash, around “1,000 people had been in touch with his team, as he pursues the first court case to officially reveal dissent inside the ranks of Russia’s security forces over the invasion,” as the Financial Times summarizes.
The individuals in question are affiliated with Rosgvardia, an armed force inside Russia that is meant for domestic matters such as dealing with protests. Members of the group had apparently been dispatched to the Crimean peninsula for so-called military exercises ahead of Russia’s recent full-scale invasion of Ukraine. (The Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia some years ago, targeting previous Ukrainian control.) According to Russian human rights activist Pavel Chikov, guardsmen in the Crimean peninsula were ordered to enter Ukraine and join the fighting but refused to do so; as Chikov explained it, “The refusal to carry out the order was explained by its unlawfulness… their direct duties were limited to the territory of the Russian Federation.” Despite dissent from some members of the force, items associated with the guard have been seen in Ukraine — although the Financial Times notes that the possibility has been raised that Rosgvardia personnel were brought to Ukraine to act as security forces in areas captured by Russian invaders.
Rosgvardia members have also apparently been involved in fighting with Ukrainian personnel, however — this week, Putin himself provided honors to individuals affiliated with the group who’d been injured near Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. And activist Ilya Kosygin (communicating from outside of Russia, the Financial Times notes) recently explained that there’d apparently been a wipe-out of numerous members of the leadership within a Rosgvardia unit known as SOBR. As Kosygin put it, referring to a funeral held in a town called Vladimir: “The Vladimir SOBR division was founded in 1993 and over the 29 years of its existence, there were no fatalities… Then on March 18 a funeral was held for almost its entire leadership.” Unfortunately, formal pushback against fighting in Ukraine has been tamped down in Russia — Benyash, the lawyer, was representing a dozen Rosgvardia personnel who’d been fired for refusing to fight in Ukraine, and most of them withdrew claims alleging they’d been wrongfully expelled. Those who brought the claims had been threatened with criminal action.
But Russian propaganda can’t hide the truth of what’s been unfolding in Ukraine — although devastating fighting is continuing, with Russians apparently further focusing efforts on the eastern portions of the invaded country, Putin’s forces have sustained significant losses. A high-ranking NATO official recently said Russia could have already lost as many as 15,000 troops in Ukraine, although the same official also said Russian troop deaths could have been as low as around 7,000 — although none of these estimates can presently be confirmed. Ukrainians have held back Putin’s army from even encircling Kyiv, although impacts have been tragic, including hundreds of deceased civilians in the recently reclaimed Kyiv suburb known as Irpin.