Both Ukrainian and Russian troops are suffering from low morale as the war inches closer to its fourth month and heavy fighting continues in the eastern region of the country, with morale particularly fraught among some Russian soldiers who are refusing orders from commanding officers and engaging in armed standoffs with them.
The latest military intelligence update from the United Kingdom (U.K.) estimates that both Russian and Ukrainian combat units are struggling with “variable morale.”
Ukraine is seeing troops desert in the thick of war, but morale among Russian soldiers is “especially troubled.” There have been cases of entire Russian units rebelling against orders from their superiors, according to the U.K. defense ministry.
“The Russian authorities likely struggle to bring legal pressure to bear on military dissenters, hampered by the invasion’s official status as a ‘special military operation’ rather than as a war,” the intelligence update reads.
The war, which Russian President Vladimir Putin launched in late February, has slogged on without a decisive victory for either side. Ukrainian troops were successful in driving Russian forces out of the capital region of Kyiv over the spring, but fighting in the Donbas, the industrial heartland in the east, remains a major challenge for both sides.
Russian soldiers have low morale for a variety of reasons, including the perception of poor leadership, heavy casualties, stress in combat and little pay.
“Many Russian personnel of all ranks also likely remain confused about the war’s objectives,” the U.K. defense ministry said.
Russia controls about 20 percent of Ukraine after seizing key territory in the east, and Ukrainian forces and civilians have been battered in assaults and have lost thousands of lives.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has kept spirits up with frequent addresses. He also continues to work with world leaders to boost his country’s financial needs and defensive capabilities.
“Russia does not have as many missiles as our people have the desire to live,” Zelensky said in a virtual address on Saturday.
Putin continues to call the invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” that he is waging to “denazify” the Ukrainian government and restore order to a country he claims is controlled by Western world leaders.
But Russia has likely lost tens of thousands of troops in Ukraine while the Kremlin struggles at home to stamp out protests and opponents of the war.
During a press conference in Kyiv on Friday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that, after 114 days of war, Russia has “still not achieved the objectives they set out for the first week.”
“If Ukraine is suffering, if Ukrainian troops are suffering, then I have to tell you that all the evidence is that Putin’s troops are under acute pressure themselves and they are taking heavy casualties,” Johnson said.