| 16.4°C Dublin

Russian troops ‘sabotaging their own tanks and walking away’ from target towns to avoid combat in Ukraine


A woman cries as she holds her child after fleeing from Ukraine to the village of Moszczany near the border checkpoint in Poland. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

A woman cries as she holds her child after fleeing from Ukraine to the village of Moszczany near the border checkpoint in Poland. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

A woman cries as she holds her child after fleeing from Ukraine to the village of Moszczany near the border checkpoint in Poland. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Russian troops are “operating in complete disarray”, their morale sapped and “crying in combat”, voice recordings of frontline soldiers obtained by a British intelligence company suggest.

Intercepted radio messages indicate troops are refusing to obey central command orders, including shelling Ukrainian towns while complaining bitterly of running out of food and fuel.

Separate video recordings show one group of Russian troops walking away from the battle front and heading back across the border, having had enough.

In a text message to his mother, one soldier is said to have written: “The only thing I want right now is to kill myself.”

A senior Pentagon official said yesterday that parts of the Russian army made up of young, poorly trained conscripts, were “ill-prepared” for battle and in some cases, had “deliberately punched holes” in their vehicles’ fuel tanks, to make sure they did not reach the front line.

The defence official declined to reveal the intelligence source but a glimpse of poor Russian morale can be heard in radio messaging between troops obtained by ShadowBreak International.

It has not been possible to independently verify the recordings made since the start of the Russian invasion six days ago.

Parts of the Russian military are reliant on mobile phones and analogue “walkie-talkies”, making them vulnerable for interception by radio hams.

In the first recording, a soldier, seemingly speaking from the command centre, says: “We will cover the town... with artillery fire.”

There then follows a tense exchange in which his contact on the ground appears to disobey the order and reminds the more senior officer that civilians or – “the goods” – have to be removed from the town before the army can open fire. The man in command sounds annoyed but accepts that ­civilians need to leave first.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

In another clip, the same man who suggested shelling a town loses his temper asking for what appears to be supplies or fuel. “We’ve been here for three days. When the hell is it going to be ready?” he yelled, as Russian expletives fill the airwaves.

Ukrainian forces also had no problem jamming the Russian communications which are often interrupted by recordings of the Ukrainian national anthem.

Samuel Cardillo (26), who founded ShadowBreak, said he had obtained about a day’s worth of recordings sent to him by amateurs with antennas listening in.

“What we have found is that the Russian operatives are operating in complete disarray,” said Mr Cardillo. “They have no clue where they are going and how to really communicate with each other properly.”

He said troops were struggling to maintain communications and would often spend 20 minutes doing a “sound check” to make sure they could be heard, offering opportunities for “radio hams” to listen in.

“It’s basically like tapping into a police frequency in the US,” said Mr Cardillo. “Through the hours of recordings we have over multiple frequencies, you will be able to hear fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, artillery, heavy ballistic missiles talking analogue because not all the units have digital communication methods. It’s such a huge vulnerability coming from Russia in such an operation. It’s insane.

Mr Cardillo also said the tapes offered “proof of war crimes” with orders to fire ballistic missiles into urban areas.

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

“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.”

Mounting evidence from messages sent home suggest the Kremlin had convinced Russian troops they would meet little resistance in Ukraine and instead be treated as conquering heroes.

“We were told we would be greeted with open arms but they call us fascists,” one Russian soldier reportedly told his mother in a text message that Serhiy Kyslytsia, Ukraine’s envoy, read out loud at the UN on Monday.

The woman asked her son if he was still out for military drills. “The only thing I want right now is to kill myself,” the soldier replied.

“Mum, I’m in Ukraine. This is a real war,” he added.

“I’m scared, we’re firing at everyone, even civilians.”

Ukrainian officials released several videos in recent days, showing captive Russian troops claiming they had no idea they would be sent into Ukraine.

Other videos showed troops apparently deserting. In one clip a group of about a dozen Russian troops were seen walking away from a small village in the Sumska region that borders Russia.

A local man in the video posted online is heard asking the men: “Are you leaving us?”

To which the soldiers replied: “We’re going home.”

The Pentagon believes poor morale and problems with supply lines may help explain why Russian forces, including a 60km convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles that has been spotted near Kyiv, have come to a near standstill.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

Related topics

Most Watched