Russia’s Vladimir Putin is calling up another 134,500 conscripts even as more and more of his own soldiers appear to be turning on him over humiliating losses in Ukraine.
According to a decree published on a Russian government portal Thursday, the troops will be called to begin service on April 1 until July 15. The Defense Ministry promised earlier this week that they “will not be sent to any hot spots,” and that all those called up in last spring’s draft will be sent home.
But those assurances seem likely to be overshadowed by a multitude of reports that say Russia’s senseless war against Ukraine has been marred by lies from the top down, with Russian troops claiming they were misled into the war and Putin’s own advisers said to be shielding him from the extent of the devastating losses.
Even as Putin signed the decree on Thursday, Ukraine’s Security Service released an intercepted call said to capture a Russian soldier railing against the incompetence of his own army.
“Our brigade has totally shit themselves. There are losses, many wounded,” he tells his wife.
Asked if the losses are a result of someone screwing up, he offers a blunt response: “The whole army with us is stupid morons.”
“It’s unclear why we are even here,” he says.
Another recording shared by Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, captures a man identified as a Russian soldier named Maksim asking his mother what is being shown on Russian television, and if there are reports “they’re saying they will change anything.”
“Everything’s bad, almost no one among us is left. They said we will keep going until the very end, until everyone is killed,” he tells his mother.
Asked if his senior officer was still with the unit, he replies: “No, he dumped us yesterday. We’re all dead in the water if he left.”
The new recordings come just hours after Western officials said there was growing evidence of disarray and disillusionment among Russian troops, with Britain’s spy chief citing reports of troops “refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.”
Reporting by Meduza on Thursday largely aligned with Western assessments. Citing three sources close to the presidential administration, the news outlet reported that Russian military officials finally came to terms with the fact that they wouldn’t be able to seize control of Kyiv by late March. (Just a month earlier, according to Meduza, they were all but certain that the “special operation” would be quick, and the biggest headache would be organizing work by the “new administrations” put in place by Russia).
But they decided to shift their focus to the Donbas in the country’s east after realizing the full scale of military setbacks—and the damage wrought on the economy by Western sanctions.
Putin was personally presented with the reality of the sanctions only at the end of March, when officials showed him “the country will not be able to live normally under such sanctions,” one source was quoted telling Meduza.
The Russian leader has still not made a final decision on what he’s going to do next, and plenty of those close to him are reportedly pressuring him to go full steam ahead with the onslaught against Ukraine.
But the presidential administration is said to be concerned about how “a possible truce with Ukraine will hit Putin’s [approval] ratings.”
“The citizens were riled up by propaganda. Suppose a decision is made to stop at the territory of the Donbas. What about the Nazis then? Are we no longer fighting them? This word has been hammered into people so much that I can’t imagine how one can stop in Donbas without losing approval ratings,” one source told Meduza.
Perhaps as part of a long game, the Kremlin has now reportedly begun implementing plans to send psychologists from the FSB into Kherson, a city in the south of Ukraine where residents continue to resist the Russian forces who took over after the Feb. 24 invasion.
“To implement a scenario for the creation of another pseudo-republic in the territory of the Kherson region, there is work underway by employees of the FSB, 652 groups of information and psychological operations and officers of the 12th Main Directorate of the [Russian] General Staff,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a statement Thursday.
Ukrainian officials said the FSB effort is an attempt to brainwash residents into supporting their new Russian authorities.
Russian law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges are also said to be on their way to occupied territories in Ukraine, with reports of Russian police officers being asked to take “business trips” to parts of the Donbas in Ukraine’s east.