Moscow’s Use Of Criminals In Russian Military Undermining Unit Cohesion And Performance – OpEd


A major cause for the poor performance of the Russian army in Ukraine is Moscow’s decision to use criminals in the ranks has destroyed unit cohesion because professional soldiers aren’t happy about having to work with people they don’t trust who often are getting more money than they are, soldiers tell Novaya gazeta.

In order not to declare a general mobilization, the Russian government is allowing criminals to join the ranks often at high pay and with a promise that their sentences will be reduced or even cancelled. Most receive little training and don’t fit in well with professional soldiers who resent them (

Because the professionals can’t count on the criminals to perform, they don’t trust them and units don’t function as they should, soldiers tell the paper – yet another example of an effort by the Kremlin to take a shortcut that is now blowing up in its face as Russian units collapse in the face of Ukrainian advances.

Most commentators have suggested Putin is reluctant to declare a general mobilization to fight the war in Ukraine because he fears such a step would trigger massive protests. But Yevgeny Suchkov says the Kremlin leader has even more compelling reasons: it could destabilize Russia and put Putin’s future as leader in doubt.

 “The entire stability of the power vertical in Russia for the last 20 years,” the director of the Moscow Institute of Electoral Technologies, “has rested on the positive view of Vladimir Putin which exists in mass consciousness.” Suggesting he has made a mistake in invading Ukraine by ordering a mobilization could call that image into question.

Russia today is “facing quite a tragic fork in the road by declaring mobilization and waging a full-scale war with Ukraine or suffering a shameful defeat and economic tragedy,” Suchkov says (

If either happens, and a declaration of mobilization would have an impact similar to an acknowledgement of defeat, Putin’s image as invariably successful would crumble; and the possibility would arise that in 2024 he would be succeeded not by himself as everyone has assumed up to now but perhaps by someone else.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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