Russian President Putin has long promised to deploy only professional military personnel in Ukraine. Moscow has now admitted sending around 600 conscripts and is punishing the officers responsible. Civil rights activists suspect that the number of soldiers on duty is significantly higher.
The Russian authorities have fined 12 officers for illegally sending conscripts into the war against Ukraine. "About 600 conscripts were called up for the special military operation, all of whom were sent back within a very short time," said the military prosecutor of Russia's western military district, Artur Yegiyev, according to the Interfax news agency. The officers have been held accountable for this, he added.
Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin had promised not to use conscripts in Ukraine, but only temporary and professional soldiers. When it became known that conscripts were nevertheless being drafted into the war, the Russian President publicly ordered their return.
The question is of great symbolic and political importance in Russia. The Kremlin has declared the war in Ukraine a "special military operation" and has indicated that only professional military personnel will fight there voluntarily. For the Russian leadership, the use of ordinary soldiers who have been drafted into military service entails the risk that popular support will dwindle. It is feared that fear of mobilization will grow and that the war in Ukraine will become as unpopular as that in Chechnya or Afghanistan.
Statements from soldiers are already indicating that the deployment is by no means purely voluntary. Many soldiers said they had been assigned to an exercise and suddenly found themselves in the war. Others report that they were pressured into signing a contract as a contract soldier.
According to estimates by civil rights activists, the number of conscripts actually fighting in Ukraine could be significantly higher than officially stated. A few served on the missile cruiser "Moskva" alone. After the sinking of the Black Sea Fleet flagship, the Russian Defense Ministry told the relatives of the missing sailors that the warship had not been involved in the operation against Ukraine. At least it was announced on Tuesday that the crew is now counted among the participants in the war. This is important so that the relatives can count on compensation.