The number of Russian soldiers abandoning their posts in Ukraine has skyrocketed, according to an intelligence update by the U.K. Ministry of Defence (MOD).
More Russian soldiers were court-martialed for going absent without leave (AWOL) between January and May this year than in all of 2022 as the Russian army struggles to retain discipline among its ranks.
In the latest briefing issued on Wednesday, the MOD revealed what it said to be “credible research” undertaken by independent Russian journalists, which showed that 1,053 desertion cases of Russian troops had been tried in Russian military courts in the year to May.
“Russia’s military has struggled to enforce discipline in its ranks throughout its operations in Ukraine, but its issues have highly likely worsened following the forced mobilization of reservists since October 2022,” the update read.
Despite vowing not to call up Russian reservists in the weeks immediately following the invasion of Ukraine last February, Russian President Vladimir Putin reneged on this promise seven months into the conflict, announcing an official decree to enact the mobilization of approximately 300,000 people of fighting age to assist with the war effort.
This was primarily due to the unexpected heavy casualties reported by the Russian military, and the threat of Ukrainian counteroffensives in the Russian-occupied territories of Kharkiv and Kherson.
The MOD cited court data suggesting that the majority of deserters found guilty by Russian military courts are being handed suspended sentences and subsequently being sent back to the frontline.
“Russia’s efforts to improve discipline have focused on making examples of deserters and promoting patriotic zeal, rather than addressing the root causes of soldiers’ disillusionment,” the update concluded.