I have stated several times before in this column that Moscow’s secret war in eastern and southern Ukraine is having a devastating impact on Russia’s armed forces. . . .
Gazeta.ru published a sensational investigation reporting that dozens of soldiers from the 33rd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade stationed in Maikop left their military unit last fall and now stand accused of desertion. The contract soldiers claim they had to leave the Kadamovsky training area due to inhuman living conditions and pressure from superiors to go serve as volunteers in the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics in Ukraine. As expected, the Russian military command vehemently denied everything. However, even official data indicates that the Maikop Garrison Court convicted 62 soldiers in the first half of 2015 on charges of “leaving their units without permission,” but convicted only about half that number, 35, on the same charges in the four years between 2010 to 2014. What could have caused such a surge in desertions? It is also worth noting that the 33rd Brigade was formed in 2005 by presidential decree and was intended to become an elite mountain unit. . . .
the soldiers of the 33rd Brigade were clearly not eager to fight in Ukraine. At that point, commanders reverted to the tactics they had used a decade earlier when they received orders to persuade conscripts to sign up as professional contract soldiers, whether by hook or by crook. They achieved that by creating unbearable conditions for the men and presenting contract service as a means of deliverance. In the same way, according to the soldiers of the 33rd Brigade, commanders made life difficult for the soldiers at the Kadamovsky training area by forcing them to sleep on boards and depriving them of adequate food and water, with the result that they suffered from frequent colds. At the same time, various officers showed up offering them the moon in the Donbass: the impossible sum of 8,000 rubles ($142) per day in pay and the status of war veterans upon their return to Russia.
However, other men already serving as contract soldiers dissuaded them, explaining that if anything were to happen to them while fighting in Ukraine, army brass would write them off retroactively or declare them deserters who had been killed by land mines while running away, according to Gazeta.ru. . . .