The Biden administration for the first time said it has evidence the Russian military killed its own soldiers after they disobeyed leaders, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday.
“We have information that the Russian military has been actively executing soldiers who refuse to follow orders,” Kirby said. “We also have information that Russian commanders are threatening to execute entire units who seek to retreat from Ukrainian artillery fire.”
Reports of such incidents date back roughly a year, with friendly fire incidents apparently common among the low-morale army and Russians overheard venting to relatives about the dangers posed by their fellow troops, The Daily Beast first reported last year.
“I’m telling you, what the fuck kind of command is this, scumbags. They’re fucking killing their own,” one such Russian commander, Aleksei, said in an intercepted phone call last year. “I’m telling you, there are more losses from our own [guys].”
Kirby attributed the executions to failings within the Russian military, which has long been plagued by mismanagement and low spirits.
“From the very beginning, we’ve been talking about poor command and control, poor logistics and sustainment. They can’t feed their guys in the field, for crying out loud,” Kirby said. “And now, again, they’re willing to shoot them for … not following orders.”
The White House did not say how far back the executions went, nor how many it estimated killed from such instances.
“It’s reprehensible to think about that you would execute your own soldiers because they didn’t want to follow orders and now threatening to execute entire units, it’s barbaric,” Kirby added. “I think it’s a symptom of how poorly Russia’s military leaders know they’re doing and how bad they have handled this from a military perspective.”