“No one needs us!”: Who is rebelling here – recruits or mercenaries?

Uniformed men stand next to a train in Belgorod, Russia, near the border with Ukraine, protesting how the Russian army is treating them. The video could be an expression of the poor morale in the troops – or the result of a power struggle.

Videos have surfaced on Russian social media showing hundreds of soldiers complaining about the chaos surrounding the mobilization. They were not assigned to a unit and had to live “like animals” for a week. “There is no food and no money,” says a man one of the videos.

The group consists of about 500 men. They were given weapons but had no information about what to do with them. The weapons were also not registered in their names, which contradicts Article 222 of the Russian Criminal Code. “None of the machine guns have been registered on our military ID cards,” the video says. One shouts: “No one needs us!” Another says the guns they were given are from the 1970s and 80s.

After an analysis by the RTL and ntv verification team, the videos have been circulating since Wednesday evening. They were probably first published on the Russian imageboard Dvach and then distributed via Telegram. The location near Belgorod mentioned in the videos is therefore correct. The Belgorod region lies on the border with Ukraine, right next to the almost completely liberated Kharkiv region and the embattled Luhansk region.

Wagner mercenaries are also there

The videos are being shared as evidence of the poor organization, equipment and morale of the Russian army. In this direction goes about report the “Moscow Times”, which is now published in exile. Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, shared three videos from the series and wrote that the “cannon fodder” was beginning to question whether, like the guns they were given, it would also be considered “used”.

The videos may also have a completely different background. Mark Krutov, a journalist from Radio Liberty, mention, thatthat the video was distributed by Telegram channels close to the Wagner mercenary group. In addition, patches from the Wagner group can be seen in the video on some of the uniforms of the soldiers who are said to have just been mobilized.

Its boss Yevgeny Prigozhin (“Putin’s Koch”) is currently openly agitating against Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is being blamed by hardliners for Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine. “All these losers belong barefoot with guns at the front,” Prigozhin recently wrote on Telegram. He was reacting to the head of the Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who had attacked the army leadership for their nepotism.

No criticism of the war

In one of the videos, Krutov recognized a soldier who was already at the end of September took a video of himself and that also went viral. In it, the man says he belongs to the 1st Panzer Regiment. They had been informed that the soldiers would be sent to the front in Kherson on September 29 without any training.

According to Krutov, he contacted the soldier via the Russian network VKontakte. He replied: “Cannot speak now, things have changed drastically, hopefully for the better.” In Krutov’s estimation, the identity of this man is genuine; that would suggest that not only Wagner mercenaries can be seen on the current videos.

There is no general criticism of the war itself or even of the attack on Ukraine in the videos, it is all about the treatment of the soldiers by the Russian army. Krutov writes that for him the videos “smell a bit like a staged story”. He still sees room for the video to be real, but has concerns. If the video is actually staged, this could indicate that the makers are trying to deliberately discredit Russia’s military leadership and thus the Ministry of Defense.

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