Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday, 8 March 2022


A Russian governor in Siberia has been confronted by angry citizens who blamed him for deploying a local riot police unit to Ukraine to become “cannon fodder”, a video clip circulating online showed.

The footage, first posted by Radio Free Europe (RFE) on Monday, showed a fiery exchange between Sergei Tsivilyov, the governor of the Kemerovo region, and people in the city of Novokuznetsk.

“They lied to everyone, they deceived everyone … Why did you send them there?” one woman asks Tsivilyov, saying that the soldiers thought they were going for military drills in Belarus.

“They didn’t know their objective … They were sent as cannon fodder,” the woman adds.

The governor would not have been responsible for the decision to deploy the unit, which would have been made by the country’s national guard, a separate internal military force directly subordinated to the president, Vladimir Putin.

According to RFE, the confrontation took place on Saturday at the gymnasium of the training base for riot police units, some of whose officers were killed or captured in Ukraine.

As the fighting in Ukraine nears its third week, more and more relatives of killed and captured Russian soldiers have expressed their opposition to the war, saying their loved ones were not told in advance about the country’s plans to invade Ukraine. Videos of captured Russian soldiers issued by the Ukrainians also appear to show that Russian troops were not informed of the invasion until the very end.

Western military experts have raised questions about Russian troops’ morale and preparedness in Ukraine, which could explain why Moscow’s blitzkrieg plan to overwhelm Ukraine and take Kyiv has so far failed.

Russia has revealed very little information about the state of its soldiers fighting in Ukraine. Last week, Russia’s defence ministry said that 498 Russian soldiers had died in Ukraine. Ukraine’s military claimed on Sunday that more than 11,000 Russian troops had been killed since the invasion of Ukraine began.

In the video, Tsivilyov defended the invasion, saying that Russia’s actions in Ukraine “shouldn’t be criticised”.

“Look, you can shout and blame everyone right now, but I think that, while a military operation is in process, one shouldn’t make any conclusions,” Tsivilyov said.

Russian officials, as well as state media, have been referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” rather than a “war” or “invasion”.

Authorities have also introduced a number of new laws aimed at stifling public opposition to the war.

On Friday, Putin signed into law a bill that introduced jail terms of up to 15 years for intentionally spreading “fake” or “false” news about the Russian army, forcing many Russian and international outlets to cease their coverage of the events.

And while the authorities have been successful at getting a large segment of the population behind its war efforts, videos such as the Novokuznetsk footage circulating online suggest the war is deeply unpopular among those who have lost friends and relatives in Ukraine.

The Guardian previously spoke to family members of a Russian sniper captured in Ukraine, who similarly expressed anger and shock about their relative’s involvement in the war.

“Young boys are thrown like cannon fodder, and most importantly for what? For palaces in Gelendzhik?” the close family member of the captured sniper Leonid Paktishev said, referring to the palatial mansion on the Black Sea that Russian independent journalists have said is linked to Putin.

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