Just over two weeks since Vladimir Putin’s latest hail mary in his war against Ukraine, things are going so well for the Russian leader that draftees are rioting, his top allies are at each other’s throats over a series of losses, and his defense minister has now been urged by his own team to blow his brains out.
“Yes, really, many are saying that… a defense minister who allowed such circumstances to arise could, as an officer, just shoot himself. But, you know, for many the word ‘officer’ is not clear,” one of Russia’s puppet leaders in Kherson said Thursday in the latest sign of the wheels falling off the Russian war machine.
Kirill Stremousov now joins a rapidly growing list of Putin loyalists openly venting about recent Russian failures on the battlefield—and blaming “worthless” Russian military brass for the humiliating debacle.
After weeks of complaints by pro-Kremlin military bloggers, anger at the military has now officially carried over into a more formal setting: even some Russian lawmakers are now lashing out at defense officials, with retired army officer Andrei Kartapolov on Wednesday demanding the army “stop lying” about war losses.
Propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, interviewing Kartapolov, suggested the “only solution” would be to execute the defense officials “guilty” of the mounting setbacks.
The very public infighting could not come at a worse time for the Kremlin, as Ukraine’s eye-popping counteroffensive to reclaim the country’s land has already forced Russian troops out of territories Putin boasted were officially now part of Russia just days ago.
The meltdown also comes, quite fortuitously, just in time for the Russian president’s birthday on Friday, which the Kremlin says he will spend in his hometown of St. Petersburg, more than 800 miles from Belgorod—the scene of the latest episode showing that Putin’s “partial mobilization” is going, quite spectacularly, not according to plan.
Just two weeks after Putin announced to all of Russia that he would be summoning hundreds of thousands to face likely death on the battlefield to stop the West from “weakening” and “dividing” the country, his own troops are clearly divided: video has emerged of draftees straight-up rioting over the dysfunctional call-up, and more than a hundred of them are now said to have refused to fight.
An estimated 500 draftees were filmed in Belgorod trashing Putin’s chaotic “partial mobilization” this week in a video widely shared by social media channels linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group puppet master who human rights groups say personally recruited hundreds of prison inmates to fight in Ukraine in order to “win this damn war” for Putin.
“Nobody needs us, there is absolutely zero preparation!” one of the draftees can be heard shouting in the video.
As if the footage of Russian troops deriding their own leaders was not bad enough, the video was also widely seen as evidence of further infighting between Putin loyalists behind the scenes, as several men seen in the video were donning Wagner insignia. The video immediately sparked suspicions that Prighozin himself may have leaked it in order to further smear top Russian defense officials he’s openly criticized for recent war failures, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. That theory appeared to gain traction as news broke that Alexei Slobodenyuk, a staffer for one of Prigozhin’s media projects known for attacking Shoigu, was arrested by a spetsnaz unit in Moscow.
But similar scenes have played out elsewhere, and even new legislation threatening deserters with up to 10 years in prison has apparently not deterred Russian draftees from opting out of the war.
More than 100 newly mobilized troops from Bryansk are now said to be refusing to go to the front.
“Where are they sending us? We have no experience, we have nothing,” an unnamed draftee said in an interview with the news outlet Sota published Thursday.
The soldier said military leadership intends to send him and roughly 100 others who are refusing to fight to take back Lyman in the Donetsk region, from where Russian troops were forced to retreat last weekend.
“About a hundred and something people were sent there [before] and one remains alive, he’s in a hospital,” the soldier said.
Apart from refusing to fight, many of the new troops Putin mobilized also appear to be more busy devouring each other than “defending the Motherland” as the Russian leader hoped. Residents in the Moscow region’s city of Serpuhkov are afraid to leave their homes as draftees drunkenly fight in the streets; draftees in Penza beat up a lieutenant-colonel accused of calling them “meat” for the slaughter; and draftees and conscripts engaged in a mass brawl near Moscow that required police intervention, according to Mozhem Obyasnit.
At least 10 Russian draftees have died before even making it to the frontline, according to local media reports. Those already on the battlefield are also revolting, according to human rights group Rus Sidyashaya, which revealed Thursday that 13 soldiers hijacked defense ministry vehicles and fled from a military base in occupied Kherson with weapons and ammunition in tow.
And that’s to say nothing of the nearly 700,000 citizens who fled the country after Putin’s mobilization order, according to a new report by Forbes Russia.
In the face of such losses, however, the Kremlin appears to prefer sticking to what it does best: playing dumb.
“I don’t even know what the Russian publication Forbes is,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday when asked about the mass exodus. “Is it published? Is there even such a publisher?”