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Russian ‘execution squads’ under orders to kill defectors, writes IAN BIRRELL 


Since the start of the war, Ukraine has been bombarding Russian phone numbers with text messages telling troops how to surrender – and a few days ago, a tank commander replied saying he would like to defect.

After discussions with Kyiv’s security services, a location was agreed.

The Russian officer drove up in his tank and, after a drone had flown overhead to guard against an ambush, was taken away by Ukrainian special forces.

‘He didn’t see the point of war,’ said Victor Andrusiv, an adviser to the minister of internal affairs, adding that all the other troops in the tank had fled home to Russia already.

Shamil Aselderov

Died in battle: Islam Abduragimov, 19, (left) and Shamil Aselderov (right)

‘He could not return home because his commander told him he would shoot him dead and say he died in battle.

‘Misha told us that he had barely any food left, the command structure was chaotic and almost absent, morale is very low.’

Andrusiv told this story yesterday on social media, saying that the defector would be paid $10,000 and spend the rest of the war in ‘comfortable conditions’ with a television, phone, kitchen and shower.

His claim follows growing suggestions that Russia’s invasion is being hampered by desertions among troops, many of them conscripts – and this is hindering its assault along with unexpectedly high fatalities, fierce resistance and failed logistics.

‘We are seeing cases of surrender when Russian troops voluntarily contact our military and declare that they want to surrender, that they do not take part in active hostilities,’ said Denys Monastyrsky, the minister for internal affairs.

Konstantin Druzhkov, GRU Spetsnaz fighter reported to have been killed in the war in Ukraine.

Konstantin Druzhkov, GRU Spetsnaz fighter reported to have been killed in the war in Ukraine.

He added they were defecting with military equipment, including tanks, after realising they were being used as ‘cannon fodder’ by their commanders.

Such claims are unverified. And this is a war being fought in the media almost as much as on battlefields, with barrages of propaganda from both sides.

Yet there is mounting talk of defections, desertions and dangerously low morale as Russia’s military machine stalls.

‘Russian forces are aware of the hopelessness of their situation and increasingly choosing desertion to avoid death,’ said the Centre for Defence Strategies, a leading Ukrainian think-tank.

Yesterday Ukraine’s armed forces said 300 Russian soldiers ‘refused to comply with orders to carry out combat’ and ‘left’ an area of intense fighting in the Sumy region.

The previous day they claimed to have seen a sharp rise in the number of defectors and enemy soldiers declining to fight in the southern Kherson and Mykolaiv regions. ‘Having seen the real strength of the Ukrainian defenders, the occupiers are no longer interested in easy money and the possibility of looting, which they were promised before the invasion,’ said the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence’s intelligence agency.

And it is claimed that in one town near Kyiv, recaptured yesterday by Ukrainian forces, Russian troops stole cars and, after changing into civilian clothes, drove hastily towards the Belarus border.

There have been reports also of intercepted messages from demoralised Russian troops in which they talk of officers who ‘shoot themselves in the leg to go home.’ US and UK intelligence reports are also understood to have discussed low morale among Russian troops as the losses mount.

One Pentagon document described soldiers simply parking their vehicles and walking away from the war into woods.

About one quarter of Russia’s military is comprised of conscripts, who are usually assumed to have lower morale than professional soldiers.

Images of some troops killed in action have shown recruits barely out of their teens. The documents of three elite GRU Spetsnatz special forces fighters, said to have been killed in the battle for Mariupol by the Azov regiment of the National Guard of Ukraine, showed that one of them, Islam Abduragimov, was aged just 19.

Another, Konstantin Druzhkov, was 33 while the papers did not specify the age of the third, Shamil Aselderov.

Death rates on both sides are impossible to verify.

Islam Abduragimov, GRU Spetsnaz fighter reported to have been killed in the war in Ukraine

Islam Abduragimov, GRU Spetsnaz fighter reported to have been killed in the war in Ukraine

Russia admitted to 498 losses in combat at the start of the month, while Ukraine put the figure at 15,000.

Almost two weeks ago, Ukraine said it had suffered about 1,300 combat fatalities.

Figures published briefly this week on a pro-Kremlin website said that 9,861 Russian troops had been killed and 16,153 injured.

About 15,000 Russian troops died in Afghanistan after the 1979 invasion – but over ten years and from across the Soviet Union.

Sources in Belarus have suggested many injured soldiers have been taken there for treatment, often arriving in terrible condition with festering wounds and after several days without food.

A military hospital in Moscow is also said to be ‘overflowing’.

Olexandr Danylyuk, director of the Centre for Defence Reform think-tank, said that there were signs of substantial defections even among elite units of the Russian military.

The former government intelligence adviser claimed that 220 members of a marines brigade had refused to fight – and that one brigade commander in a special forces unit was suspended after refusing to send in reinforcements following heavy losses.

‘These are indications that even in the lead military units, many of the soldiers do not want to be sent to Ukraine or fighting in Ukraine,’ said Danylyuk.

‘They don’t want to be killed and see this war as having a very high risk of dying.’

Ukrainian security services say that prisoners have told them their forces are followed by ‘execution squads’ ordered to kill any troops trying to flee in a revival of Stalin’s tactics. There have also been reports of Chechen units being sent in to stop Russian desertions. Since the start of the war, Kyiv has released videos showing Russian captives – some of whom say they chose to quit rather than keep fighting.

This is a powerful media strategy, although human rights groups argue it violates the Geneva Convention.

‘My infantry fighting vehicle was shot, so I threw away all the weapons and surrendered,’ said one soldier, giving his name and service number. Another Russian – identified as a senior sergeant – claimed they ‘decided to lay down the arms and surrender to the local authorities’ after discovering Russian president Vladimir Putin’s claims about Ukraine being run by nationalists were false.

Handwritten letters have also appeared that purport to come from Russian soldiers who have been fighting in Ukraine and telling superior officers why they will not return.

Konstantin Druzhkov, GRU Spetsnaz fighter reported to have been killed in the war in Ukraine.

Konstantin Druzhkov, GRU Spetsnaz fighter reported to have been killed in the war in Ukraine.

‘I refuse to take part in hostilities on the territory of Ukraine once again due to the lack of technical support, lack of coordination of actions, lack of any communication with the unit and with the command,’ wrote one sergeant in a motorised unit.

Already the Kremlin has called on Chechen and Syrian troops to reinforce its forces.

Kyiv’s intelligence services have intercepted information suggesting that Moscow may now be seeking to persuade North Koreans to boost its forces.

Belarus opposition figures have claimed to have information that Putin’s original plan for their forces to join his invasion was thwarted when several senior military officers resigned, fled the country and then contacted them.

It is believed that Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko is reluctant to send his troops over the border due to continuing disquiet among his own armed forces.

A Belarusian unit in the Ukrainian military is also calling on their troops to defect if they are forced to invade.

The Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and MailOnline UKRAINE REFUGEE APPEAL

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