Russia admits conscripts taking part in Ukraine invasion

The ministry said that some of them, serving in supply units, had been taken prisoner by the Ukrainian army.

 Servicemen ride on a Russian Army military armoured vehicle with the letter 'Z' on it, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in the town of Armyansk, Crimea, February 24, 2022.  (photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)
Servicemen ride on a Russian Army military armoured vehicle with the letter 'Z' on it, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in the town of Armyansk, Crimea, February 24, 2022.
(photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)

Russia's defense ministry acknowledged on Wednesday that some conscripts were taking part in the conflict with Ukraine after multiple denials by President Vladimir Putin, who said only professional soldiers and officers had been sent in.

The ministry said that some of them, serving in supply units, had been taken prisoner by the Ukrainian army.

"Unfortunately, we have discovered several facts of the presence of conscripts in units taking part in the special military operation in Ukraine. Practically all such soldiers have been pulled out to Russia," it said, promising to prevent such situations in the future.

On Tuesday, Putin had insisted that there were no conscripts.

"I emphasize that conscript soldiers are not participating in hostilities and will not participate in them. And there will be no additional call-up of reservists," Putin said in a televised message to mark International Women's Day.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a flag-raising ceremony on the ferry Marshal Rokossovsky via a video link at his residence outside Moscow, Russia March 4, 2022. (credit: Sputnik/Andrei Gorshkov/Kremlin via REUTERS) Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a flag-raising ceremony on the ferry Marshal Rokossovsky via a video link at his residence outside Moscow, Russia March 4, 2022. (credit: Sputnik/Andrei Gorshkov/Kremlin via REUTERS)

Citing Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the RIA news agency said Putin had ordered military prosecutors to investigate and punish the officials responsible for disobeying his instructions to exclude conscripts from the operation.

Some associations of soldiers' mothers in Russia had raised concerns about a number of conscripts going incommunicado at the start of what Kremlin calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine, suggesting they could have been sent to fight despite a lack of adequate training.

The Kremlin and military authorities had denied it until now. Last week, Russia's parliament passed a law imposing a prison term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally "fake" news about the military.

"Unfortunately, we have discovered several facts of the presence of conscripts in units taking part in the special military operation in Ukraine. Practically all such soldiers have been pulled out to Russia," the defense ministry said, promising to prevent such situations in the future.

One mother of a conscript, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said her 19-year-old son's military unit was sent south to the Russian city of Kursk soon after he started his military service and was then moved to Belgorod, a town closer to the Ukrainian border, for training.

She says that judging by the few phone calls she had received, he had not yet been deployed into Ukraine and had not signed a contract to do so. "I am not sure what will happen tomorrow," she told Reuters by telephone.

The Russian Army is considered to be among the greatest in the world. A 2021 annual ranking by Global Firepower ranked them as the second-strongest military force in the world, behind just the US and above China.

Moscow has given its army the world's fourth-highest military expenditure and boasts the second-largest navy (behind China) and air force (behind the US) and the largest number of tanks, where it significantly dwarfs the US.

In terms of size overall, Russia's army is estimated to be the fifth-largest in the world, with a million active-duty soldiers and two million in reserves. 

But notably, Russia has mandatory conscription, where all men aged 18-27 must be drafted for a year of army service. These conscripts are poorly trained and suffer from poor treatment and hazing. According to EUToday, Russian conscripts make just 2,000 rubles a month, which is currently equivalent to under $17.

According to The Washington Post, the Russian Army's logistics units are largely operated by conscripts.