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“Impossible to flee”: in Ukraine, Russian soldiers responsible for executing deserters

It is a sinister practice which the Russian army has made its specialty for decades: shooting at its own soldiers who have the misfortune of retreating, or even deserting. According to a British secret service report published this Friday, November 4, “due to low morale and reluctance to fight, Russian forces have probably started to deploy ‘barrier troops'”. In other words, units responsible for executing their brothers in arms beating a retreat “in order to constrain the offensives”, specifies the press release. A war waged gun to the head, in short.

Last September, the Russian oligarch Evgueni Prigojine, from Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, said the same thing: filmed in September in the process of enlisting soldiers in prison, he warned future recruits in these terms: “Those who advance , those who are the most brazen, most often survive. Those who arrive at the front and say from the first day that this place is not for them are considered deserters, and will be executed.”

No one knows for the moment the extent of these methods. Last week, Ukrainian intelligence claimed, with soundtrack, that the Russian army had set up “a second line of troops behind the front line to shoot down anyone fleeing the fighting.” kyiv broadcast what it presents as an “intercepted phone call” from a Russian soldier telling his wife how his commander ordered him to “eliminate” all fugitives.

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“We are posted in the second line, as a unit blocking the retreat, he describes. If someone comes running back, we liquidate him.” And behind us, there is another line (…) So it is impossible to run away.”

Difficult, at this stage, to authenticate this audio clip. One thing is certain: the practice of “barrage units” (zagrad otdely) is old in the Russian army. Stalin made it one of his trademarks. On July 28, 1942, he signed order number 227, known for its terrible slogan: “Not a step back!”.

In full offensive of the German Wehrmacht, the Red Army is then in great difficulty. This text orders the creation, within each army corps, of several barrage units, armed to the teeth, specially dedicated to killing deserters. “More than 158,000 Soviet soldiers died at the hands of their own comrades between 1941 and 1944”, recalls in a research article Professor Jason Lyall, of the American University of Dartmouth.

In addition to its cruelty, this device has its limits in terms of military effectiveness, according to this teacher. “These detachments can strengthen soldiers’ resolve through the threat of punishment, but it also risks feeding their grievances, damaging their morale and leading to greater insubordination.” Vladimir Putin will probably not, like Stalin in his time, advertise these firing squads. Though…


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