When Vicktor Zolotov, director of the Russian National Guard, briefed his boss, President Vladimir Putin, on the status of military operations in Ukraine on Tuesday, one comment in particular stood out.
“I especially want to emphasize that we feel the support of the population in the liberated areas,” Zolotov told a stone-faced Putin.
In reality, Russia is struggling to rally support from its own troops, according to internal government documents obtained exclusively by Yahoo News describing drunken acts of insubordination six months after Putin’s invasion.
The documents include an incident and assassination report by the military investigative division of the Russian Black Sea Fleet Inquiry Commission regarding an incident on June 19 in which three Russian soldiers were shot dead and two others injured in a firefight with Federal Security Service officers ( FSB), the successor to the KGB, in a bar in Kherson City, on the banks of the Dnieper River.
The city lies at the epicenter of an oblast occupied by Russian forces since late February, from which Ukraine appeared yesterday to launch operations to recapture. Details of that operation are hard to come by as Kiev has announced a media blackout of ongoing military activity. But videos posted to social media show a series of Ukrainian artillery strikes on military installations, weapons and ammunition depots and major bridges have continued in the past 24 hours. In response, Russian air defenses across the oblast have been activated.
Kherson Stremousov, the Russian-appointed governor of Kherson, has fled the region and even recorded a video Tuesday from a hotel in Voronezh, Russia. Meanwhile, there are even unconfirmed reports of gunfire in Kherson’s Pivnichny and Tavriiske neighborhoods.
The FBI’s Russian equivalent can at least testify to gunfire in the city of Kherson two months ago — between Russians.
According to the report of the Commission of Inquiry, at about 8 p.m. on June 19, Igor Yakubinsky, Sergei Privalov and DA Borodin, three officers of the Subsection Military Task Force No. 9 of the FSB, entered the Food Fuel cafe on Ushakova Avenue when they discovered two contract soldiers, Sgt. Sergei Obukhov and junior lieutenant Igor Sudin “disappeared timelessly consuming alcoholic beverages,” according to the investigation committee’s documents.
The FSB officers protested the men for drinking while in uniform. Obukhov responded by removing his gun and firing bullets into the floor, the report said. Privalov tried to grab the gun, whereupon Sudin started spraying the security forces with bullets from his AK-74 assault rifle, while Privalov and Yakubinsky fired back.
According to the documents, Obukhov, Privalov and Yakubinsky died “on the spot”, while Borodin and Sudin “were admitted with injuries of varying degrees of severity to the Federal Naval Clinical Hospital No. 1427 of the Russian Ministry of Defense, located in Sevastopol”, on the occupied Crimea. A fourth FSB officer, not identified in the documents, fled the site.
Obukhov, 28, and Sudin, 31, both belonged to a Russian military unit known as the 8th Artillery Regiment of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
The shooting, which is now the subject of a criminal case led by VO Savchenko, an official in the Military Investigations Department, is the latest example of problems with military discipline among Russian soldiers in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
Reports of Russian soldiers’ alcoholism are widespread in Ukraine and morale has suffered as Putin’s war continues without achieving the primary goal of regime change.
In Kherson in particular, the Russian occupiers have been the target of suspected Ukrainian guerrilla activities, including assassinations and patrol ambushes. Earlier this month, Sky News quoted a local Ukrainian journalist in Kherson as telling the newspaper that on the outskirts of the city, Russian soldiers were hammered, “a bottle of alcohol in one hand, a machine gun in the other.”