Putin's Military Officers Refusing to Obey Orders in Ukraine: U.S. Official

A senior official from the U.S. Department of Defense on Monday said officers in Russian President Vladimir Putin's military have joined soldiers in refusing to follow orders in Ukraine.

During a background briefing, the senior official at the Department of Defense told Newsweek that the agency had received anecdotal reports of poor morale among Russian troops in Ukraine as well as reports that Russian military officers had been disobeying orders. The U.S. government official further characterized the Russian leadership on the ground as not being sound or in control.

The official added that the reports the department has received about Russian dissidence involved mid-grade officers, including some at the battalion level. He said that the reports indicated that some of these officers either refused to obey orders they were given or had not followed through with the orders to the level at which they had likely been expected to respond.

The reports could not be independently confirmed.

The latest accounts of military discontentment came as Russia celebrated Victory Day, its annual commemoration of the end of World War II. During a speech before a military parade in Moscow's Red Square, Putin defended his ongoing invasion in Ukraine as the "only right solution."

Destroyed Russian tank
A Department of Defense official said Russia's military in Ukraine is beset with low morale problems. In this photo, a destroyed Russian BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle is seen on a road near Pokrovske, eastern Ukraine, on May 4. Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images

Since the beginning of Russia's military attacks on Ukraine on February 24, there have been reports of low troop morale among Russian forces. On March 1, The New York Times wrote that a Pentagon official said entire Russian units, some full of young conscripts, had laid down their weapons rather than fight Ukraine's forces. Some Russian troops had even sabotaged their own vehicles, according to the story.

Last month, the Ukrainian government also said it had learned of Russian troops who had refused to fight.

"The moral and psychological condition of the said personnel is low and tends to deteriorate," the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces wrote in an April 6 statement on Facebook.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) has posted translations onto its website of what it said were calls and messages it had intercepted from Russian troops and commanders, and these communications further illustrate morale issues in Russia's ranks.

The soldiers allegedly referred to themselves as "cannon fodder" in messages and compared their situation in Ukraine to "hell."

It reportedly intercepted text messages posted on the SSU's site, one Russian commander of a regiment fighting near Izium in the Kharkiv region said he tried shooting some of his "completely demoralized" soldiers after failing to "get them up morally or physically."

Newsweek reached out to Russia's Defense Ministry for comment.