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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Notes From The Front: How The Russian Army Is Rotting From Within

The deteriorating conditions among Russia’s front line troops, chronicled by a handful of foot soldiers who have spoken out, may explain why Ukraine’s recent counter-assault has been so successful.

Military school cadets of the Russian army in Moscow

Anna Akage

Russia’s ongoing loss of territory in Ukraine can be explained by tactical errors on the part of Moscow’s generals, and the outsized ambitions of Vladimir Putin. But no less important — and evidently related — is the collapse of rank-and-file Russian soldiers.

The sudden collapse of Moscow’s units, having ceded a total of more than 3,000 square miles from both the northeastern region near Kharkiv and southern areas around Kherson, comes amid growing disaffection among Russian soldiers who went to war in Ukraine. Much of it has been chronicled through confessions and critiques that have begun to appear in the media and on social networks.

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To be sure, these are isolated voices among the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of those who for various reasons decided to abandon the army. But they are no doubt an expression of a much wider set of circumstances and sentiments among foot soldiers fighting on behalf of Moscow.

By far the best known of the soldiers speaking out is paratrooper Pavel Filatiev, who wrote a 140-page book-length chronicle of the two months of the war he spent as part of the battalion that had crossed over from Crimea to launch an assault on Kherson on February 24.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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