Is Russia’s military falling apart in Ukraine?

Leaked radio messages suggest invading troops are ‘in complete disarray’ and ‘crying in combat’

24 February: Ukrainian servicemen prepare to respond to a Russian attack in the Lugansk region

Ukrainian troops prepare to fight Russian forces in the Luhansk region

Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

Russian troops deployed in Ukraine are refusing to obey orders and running out of key supplies including food and fuel, intercepted radio messages appear to suggest.

The leaked audio, obtained by London-based intelligence company ShadowBreak Intl, “sheds light on troop’s confusion about engaging targets in civilian areas and voice stress and frustration about the lack of supplies”, The Telegraph reported. A soldier can be heard apparently crying in one clip.

Similar claims that Russian troops are cracking up have been reported by The New York Times (NYT), which said that according to a Pentagon source, some units “have surrendered en masse or sabotaged their own vehicles to avoid fighting”.

‘Proof of war crimes’

The leaked radio messages suggest that parts of the Russian military deployed to Ukraine are completely “reliant on mobile phones and analogue walkie-talkies” for battlefield communications, “making them vulnerable to interception by radio enthusiasts”, The Telegraph reported.

Ukrainian intelligence officials “had no problem jamming” their communications, which they “often interrupt with recordings of the Ukrainian national anthem”.

ShadowBreak founder Samuel Cardillo told the paper: “What we have found is that the Russian operatives are operating in complete disarray. They have no clue where they are going and how to really communicate with each other properly.” 

Tapping into their radio frequencies was “basically like tapping into a police frequency in the US”, said Cardillo, who claimed to have heard “proof of war crimes”, including orders to fire ballistic missiles into civilian areas.

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“There were periods where we heard [Russian soldiers] crying in combat, a period where they were insulting each other – obviously not a sign of great morale,” he added. 

“There was an instance where they shot at each other, there was an instance where they had to transport dead bodies back to their forward operating bases. Many times you can hear them not at their highest level of happiness.”

The NYT has reported claims by an unnamed senior Pentagon official that “entire Russian units have laid down their arms without a fight after confronting a surprisingly stiff Ukrainian defence”.

A “significant number” of the Russian troops were said to be young conscripts “who are poorly trained and ill-prepared” for the invasion.

Some have “deliberately punched holes in their vehicles’ gas tanks, presumably to avoid combat”, the paper said. 

The Economist’s defence editor Shashank Joshi tweeted that a US Department of Defence source had confirmed the self-sabotage claim, telling him: “I can say with certainty this is happening.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN has painted a similar picture, by revealing the contents of texts alleged to have been sent by a Russian soldier to his mother shortly before his death.

The unnamed soldier said Russian troops were “shooting everyone, including civilians”, and that he wanted to “hang” himself, ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told a special UN session on Monday on Moscow’s aggression. 

“There’s a real war going on here,” the soldier wrote. “They told us Ukrainians would greet us peacefully, but they are throwing themselves under our machinery, not letting us pass. They call us fascists, Mum.”

The NYT suggested the combination of low morale and logistical issues “may help explain why Russian forces, including an ominous 40-mile convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles near Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, have come to a near crawl”.

The Pentagon source reportedly told the paper that Russian commanders leading the column might also be “regrouping and rethinking” ahead of a fresh push to capture the city. 

Shaken conscripts

“Mounting evidence” from messages sent to Russia from the front lines “suggest the Kremlin had convinced Russian troops that they would meet little resistance in Ukraine and instead be treated as conquering heroes”, The Telegraph said.

Russian state media “denied plans to invade Ukraine before Thursday’s all-out assault”, but had also suggested that Ukrainians “were so deeply unhappy with their government that they would welcome Russian soldiers”.

But “the opposite is proving to be the case”, the paper continued, with Ukraine’s military staging a fierce fightback and releasing “myriad videos” in which “captive Russian troops claim they had no idea they would be sent” into the neighbouring country.

With young soldiers already “abandoning gear, deserting, and showing other signs of strain, an urgent push to further erode Russian morale could throw Vladimir Putin’s tottering military into complete disarray”, said Forbes defence writer Craig Hooper.

Putin “kept the average Russian soldier in the dark about the Ukraine invasion” and they “know nothing about the war they are fighting”, he wrote. They are now “vulnerable to suggestion”, so “a massive, no-holds-barred effort to educate and further demoralise Russian soldiers” would “likely pay enormous dividends”.

Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group political risk consultancy, tweeted earlier this week that ideas being discussed in Brussels included “offering asylum and refugee status for soldiers that want to desert the Russian army – to incentivise defections – as long as they have not committed war crimes”.

There are undoubtedly “signs of poor morale in some units”, said The Economist, with footage circulating online showing “at least one tank column hurriedly reversing after being confronted by unarmed civilians”.

But “the bulk of Russian forces” are closing in on Kyiv”.

“The woes of the Russian war machine are big and real”, the paper continued. The more important question, however, is whether they are also “temporary”.

“Rockets and cluster munitions have begun targeting residential areas” and “images show corpses littering the streets”, suggesting that a sizeable number of troops are still following orders, no matter how “grim” the outcome.


  1. We can thank our lucky stars that the mafia military leadership is every bit as incompetent as mafia land’s government.

    • It’s very uplifting to see such things. It helps me a lot, even though Ukraine is not out of the woods yet.

      • The majority of the invaders are still animals I believe. I’m no expert but it seems to me occupation is not going to happen but a Syria-style aerial pummeling seems to be the case until we can get a replacement for our air defenses back up and running. Id like to ensure this column can’t return to Mordor, we could always use some extra trucks and tanks.

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