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Nyet: Russian Soldiers Refuse to Be Deployed to Syria

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Fighting in Ukraine is one thing, but when it comes to fighting ISIS in Syria, it's more like, "Hell, no, we won't go!" A group of Russian career soldiers (as opposed to draftees) have reportedly refused to be deployed to Syria. According to the report, first published in the Russian newspaper Gazeta, the soldiers were initially told they were being deployed to eastern Ukraine. When they discovered they were actually going to Syria, they refused to go.

The excerpt below is the Gazeta article translated from Russian to English by the website The Interpreter. The article contained an interview with four of the Kontraktniki (contract soldiers).

They kept looking around and appeared nervous. The kontraktniki were unsure what they were legally entitled to do or not. They had, with difficulty, got permission to leave the bounds of the base. But one thing that they were absolutely sure of was that they didn't belong in Syria with weapons in their hands. 

"We don't want to go to Syria, we don't want to get killed there," says Alexei in a brilliant t-shirt. "From the very start of this mission there has been a lot of strangeness and innuendo, the reality began to dawn on us here, in Novorossiysk.

Alexei N., a lieutenant, was one of the four whistle-blowers the newspaper interviewed. He told Gazeta:

... that commanders selected 20 of the best-trained soldiers and told them that they would be deployed to a hot region. They were warned that the climate would be very different from what they were used to and that there would be poisonous animals at the new place, but the specific region was not named. The group was first sent to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. At first, the soldiers assumed they were being sent to the east of Ukraine, but later they found out they would be deployed in Syria. 

They also knew something was up when they were all issued brand-new weapons, unusual for the Russian military. Further agitating them was the fact that, strangely, none of soldiers had a return date on their travel papers.

"Serial numbers were removed from the vehicles. We were told about the reinforcement of an airbase in Syria," says another kontraktnik. "One of the people unloading in the port said that we would be on campaign there for four months."

But, nothing was coming from their commanders. When he realized that he and his comrades from his composite company were going to be sent to Syria at any moment, he told Gazeta.ru that they didn't want to fight and go to the Middle East and no one was being straight with them. 

(..) "We had lectures from our commanders at the military base. They told us that our country of arrival would be hot, that it was important for us to bear hygiene in mind, and that under no circumstances were we to take a step outside the territory of the military base. They also explained what to do and how behave in captivity and during interrogtions," say the soldiers. "They specifically told us that the environment would be unfamiliar to us - snakes, vipers. But they would not say specifically where they were sending us, citing the secret directives of the General Staff."

As one may imagine, the objections of Alexei and his company did not make their commanding officers happy, so top brass sent someone to calm their objections, which along with their reluctance to go to Syria, included a lack of insurance and combat pay. 

On September 16 a member of the General Staff arrived at the base. Speaking before the personnel, the soldier in civilian clothes and without insignia stated that the order for assignment abroad was a secret. He confirmed that the company was being sent to Latakia in Syria (held by the forces of the ruling regime of Bashar Assad), and did not rule out their paricipation in combat operations. The load-up on the ship was planned for September 17, said the officer.

The member of the General Staff dismissed all objections concerning the legality of the orders and refused to elaborate on the missions plan, again citing its secrecy. He also suggested to the command not to allow the kontraktniki off the base and into the city.

Alexei tells Gazeta.ru that the command didn't speak about compensation in the even of wounding or death, they also said nothing about insurance. "The commander said that we had one task before us: all of the personnel must return alive," says the kontraktnik.

The Kontraktniki were upset they received verbal orders without an objective or duration, so they went to the local military prosecutor to ask if they had to follow their orders. The prosecutor’s office refused to take official statements. 
That evening, an assistant to the military prosecutor arrived at the base with two investigators. The men were told that they had to comply with any orders they received, even verbal ones. The prosecutor's assistant "did not want to listen to any counter-arguments about social security."
The soldiers then went to Gazeta to make their story public and, so far, it has worked. 

The Interpreter, a website "dedicated primarily to translating media from the Russian press and blogosphere into English," reported that, based on the public awareness arising from interviews the soldiers gave to the media, their deployment to Syria has been suspended.

According to the Moscow Times the Kremlin denies the soldiers were every going to Syria:

Russia's Defense Ministry on Friday said it was impossible that the soldiers could have been deployed to Syria. The ministry's press service told the TASS news agency that the troops, who belonged to the Eastern Military District, could only be sent to a destination within that district.

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