Putin faces ultimatum from troops threatening to withdraw from Ukraine fight

The Russian Ministry of Defence is facing a fresh headache as irregular formations “remain willing to threaten to withdraw from combat”, a respected think tank said.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believes threats from Moscow of purges and punishments for insubordination are doing little to force some irregular troops to toe the line.

Particularly the neo-Nazi Rusich Sabotage and Reconnaissance Group, a Russian irregular paramilitary unit which has been fighting alongside their country’s army, issued an ultimatum on August 25.

The troops said they would not take part in any campaign in Ukraine unless the Kremlin secures the release from Finnish custody of their founding member, Yan Petrovsky.

The paramilitary leader is facing extradition to Ukraine, where he is suspected of various charges related to terrorism.

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Speaking about the friction between the Defence Ministry and Rusich, the ISW said in its latest assessment of the war in Ukraine: “The Rusich Group accused the Russian government of not meeting its obligations to protect Russians abroad by not securing Petrovsky’s release earlier, and asked why Rusich personnel should protect Russia if the Russian government will not protect Russians.”

The paramilitary troops have indicated they are operating on the Robotyne-Verbove line in western Zaporizhia Oblast, a frontline area described as “critical” by the ISW where Russia “likely cannot afford for any units to rebel and refuse to conduct combat missions”.

Earlier this week, Ukrainian forces said to have secured the village of Robotyne, and planted their country’s flag on the roof of one of the buildings destroyed by the heavy fighting.

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The advance towards the south seemingly continued in the following days, with the Ukrainian General Staff saying on Friday (August 25) there had been further success both towards the villages of Novoprokopivka and Ocheretuvate in the east.

The Ukrainian counteroffensive began in early June and has since made gains on the southern and eastern fronts.

While there has been criticism in the West at the slow pace of the advances, experts have noted the soldiers are navigating heavily mined areas, with every step towards the Russian defence lines risking casualties.

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The ISW also noted the Russian Ministry of Defence is dealing with further turmoil in its ranks.

The analysis read: “The MoD is reportedly prosecuting the junior officers and soldiers of a Russian unit that complained about senior commanders’ inattention to frontline issues, following a MoD pattern of deflecting blame away from senior officers.”

This deflection of responsibility is angering Russian military bloggers, the ISW added, before saying: “These claims are unconfirmed, but the speed at which the Russian military command is reportedly responding likely demonstrates their deep concern about insubordination in the military, as well as of public criticism of the Russian military command.”

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