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Nearly five months into Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” and after myriad reports of troops resorting to desperate measures to ditch the war, Russia’s Defense Ministry on Thursday suddenly announced it was giving some soldiers in Ukraine’s Donbas a “chance to rest.”
The supposed break was announced by a spokesman for the ministry to Russian journalists early Thursday, according to TASS news agency. It was framed as a compassionate gesture meant to ensure the well-being of troops, with a spokesman quoted as saying the time would be used to “replenish combat capabilities” and allow troops to “receive letters and packages from home.”
The announcement came after the Institute for the Study of War noted that, for the first time in the full-scale invasion, Russia had not boasted of any new territorial gains, a fact which experts said seemed to indicate they had “largely initiated an operational pause.”
But in a separate briefing by Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov on Thursday, no mention was made of any such break, and it was not clear how many troops were supposedly being allowed to take a timeout. Nor was it clear what exactly a “chance to rest” would entail.
Instead, the remarks seemed to be more in line with the Kremlin’s recent PR efforts to boost morale amid reports of dead troops literally being incinerated to hide losses and soldiers sent to the frontlines with no equipment. The pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda went all out to frame the announcement as a cause for celebration among troops, reporting that concerts have even been arranged for them.
The reality was very different on the ground in Ukraine, where local authorities in Kramatorsk said Russian forces carried out a missile strike early Thursday in the center of the city that caused casualties. It was not immediately clear how many people were injured or killed.
The supposed “operational pause” touted by Russian military officials also comes amid reports of Putin’s troops taking increasingly drastic measures to hide losses and shore up depleted resources.
In Kherson, where an official from Russia’s Federal Security Service recently took over as the head of the “new” Kremlin-run administration, authorities have begun burning the bodies of dead soldiers “to hide the real number of losses,” according to Ukrainian intelligence.
“On the outskirts of the city, sites with a large number of burned human remains have repeatedly been seen,” the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, noting that local authorities try to pass off the fires as if they were caused by artillery strikes.
Russia has also apparently been getting more desperate in its attempts to find fresh cannon fodder for the war—so much so that the military has begun trawling public employment agencies intended to help the unemployed, according to a new report.
The independent investigative outlet IStories reported Thursday that several Russian brigades that suffered the heaviest losses in Ukraine—including one that was accused of carrying out genocide in Bucha—have been using job-vacancy portals to prey on down-on-their-luck people desperate for work, and in some cases sending them straight to the frontline without any training.
Russian troops captured in intercepted phone calls to relatives back home have also routinely vented about the military hanging them out to dry, according to Ukrainian intelligence.
In one particularly disturbing call shared by Ukraine’s Security Service this week, a man identified as a Russian soldier can be heard breaking down as he tells a family member, “Do you know how many corpses I’ve seen, the kind that you have never in your life seen: without heads, without legs, without torsos …”
“I won’t recover from this ever… There is just meat here… You can’t imagine what is going on here. I don’t see how I can return to normal life.”