Putin sending in execution squads to kill Russian troops fleeing Ukraine war

As troops from Russia’s faltering invasion force in Ukraine are deserting in increasing numbers, leader Vladimir Putin has reportedly sent in “execution squads” to round up soldiers attempting to leave their units.

According to a Telegram post from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) several Russian POWs have told their captors that "army leadership has resumed the practice of 'execution squads' – echelons that follow the main forces of the Russian Federation and kill those who want to escape," in a grim echo of Stalin’s World War II Soviet commissar squads.

One captured Russian serviceman told the SBU: "We can't desert or try to run, because echelons are coming after us, killing deserters who are trying to return to Russia."

Reports from the front line suggest that the invaders are suffering from desperately low morale, and in many cases are unwilling to fire on people that they see as fellow Russians.

According to the Ukrainian government, Russia has exhausted its “offensive potential” and is losing hundreds to drops to desertion, forcing Putin to call in reinforcements from the “depths” of Russia.

The precise scale of Russian losses remains unconfirmed but last week, American intelligence offered a conservative estimate that 7,000 Russian troops had been killed in the conflict.

A senior Pentagon official told the New York Times that Russian forces were “struggling on many fronts,” including routine supply lines and logistics, and that some Russian troops had reportedly been evacuated because of frostbite.

The fighting is at its bitterest around Mariupol , which Human Rights Watch has described as a “freezing hellscape littered with dead bodies”.

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With Russian troops saying they have had their mobile phones confiscated by senior officers in a bid to control the flow of information from the war zone, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has announced that it has sent “thousands” of its Starlink satellite dishes to Ukraine to help boost internet access.

At home, Russians are fearing severe food shortages and a return to the endless queues of the Soviet era as sanctions continue to bite.

Elina Ribakova, deputy chief economist for the Institute of International Finance, told the Guardian that Russia’s isolation is not just a temporary blip.

“I think we are steadily going back to a USSR," she said.

"I’m not seeing it as a temporary shock and then we’re going to go back to the liberal democracy and reintegration into the world, unless there is a change in government.”

But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted in a CNN interview that Moscow’s military operation was proceeding “strictly in accordance with the plans and purposes that were established beforehand”.

However, he refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons if Russia faced an “existential threat”.

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