As the exodus of Russian soldiers continues to escalate, Vladimir Putin finds himself increasingly humiliated on the international stage, grappling with the repercussions of a military campaign that is unravelling both at home and abroad.
Amid relentless fighting that left the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in ruins earlier this year, a Russian conscript, operating under the pseudonym Anton, meticulously planned his escape from the escalating conflict.
Anton, who had been deployed to the war-torn region, seized a two-week leave in August as his opportunity to elude the carnage.
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Recalling his experiences from an undisclosed location abroad in a recent interview with Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, Anton represents a growing trend among Russian soldiers abandoning their military duties in Ukraine.
He said: “From the first days there, I began to intensely study this. I surfed the Internet. What? How? Where?”
Although precise figures are elusive, independent news outlet Mediazone disclosed that 2,076 criminal cases were initiated in the first half of 2023 against Russian soldiers accused of desertion, marking a two-fold increase from 2022 and three times higher than the prewar figure in 2021.
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Analysts believe that the actual numbers could be even higher, considering the Kremlin’s concerted efforts to suppress information about military activities.
Despite the looming threat of prosecution, an increasing number of Russian conscripts are evidently willing to take the risk.
Idite Lesom, an antiwar organisation based in Georgia, revealed that 18 percent of all requests for assistance in desertion they received were registered in October alone.
Daria Berg, an activist associated with Idite Lesom, shed light on the dire circumstances faced by Russian soldiers, saying: “There is no rotation; it is very difficult to go on leave. Deserters who went on leave or ended up in the hospital say this is their only option not to end up in the war again.”
She underscored the desperation that propels soldiers to seek refuge outside their military obligations.
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