Putin uses minorities as “cannon fodder”, Buryat soldiers return home from Ukraine

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Human rights groups It has long been pointed out that Russia’s poorest regions are paying the highest price for the war in Ukraine. Now some of those involved in this war speak for themselves.

According to members of the Free Buryatia Foundation, a pro-democracy group based in the United States and representing its constituency from abroad, 150 Buryat soldiers canceled their military contracts earlier this month.

A group of wives and mothers of servicemen recorded a video message to the governor of Buryatia with a request to let the servicemen go home. The video caused a stir and was quickly taken down by intimidated producers.

But the men reportedly returned home after walking around a closed military facility in Lugansk for several days. However, the fact that the soldiers have returned may give other groups hope that they, too, will be able to remember their families.

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In this photo provided by the press service of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense on July 7, 2022, Ukrainian servicemen plant the national flag on Zmeiny Island in the Black Sea.

In this photo provided by the press service of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense on July 7, 2022, Ukrainian servicemen plant the national flag on Zmeiny Island in the Black Sea.
(Press service of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine via AP)

Buryatia, according to Vladimir Budaev from the Free Buryatia Foundation, ranks 81st among 85 regions by wealth in Russia. In other words, this is the poorest part of the country.

The Buryats are closely connected with the people of Mongolia. Budaev argues that the region in Eastern Siberia is artificially supported by the poor center, the Kremlin, to keep it dependent on Moscow’s largesse. Buryatia has one of the highest rates of military casualties in Russia.

“This is Russia’s colonial policy,” Budaev told Fox News. “We are talking about xenophobia and chauvinism, because we are Buryats. We are not the main population of Russia. So, basically, they treat us like expendables.”

For many, before the war, military service was the only real social lift. In peacetime, work in the army turned out to be more like working in the public service. In a region where the average monthly salary is below $400 a month, a salary that can now be almost eight times more attractive. Pay and aggressive recruiting is everything Russian President Putin must at this moment keep his war machine in motion.

He did not call for general mobilization, presumably for political reasons. And for that reason, human rights lawyers say, soldiers can even refuse to go to war if they want to. But it won’t be that easy. Neither direct. But it appears that hundreds, if not thousands, of Russians and non-Russians alike are seeking help to cancel contracts or avoid a trip to Ukraine.

Soldiers hold flares at the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushny in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 18, 2022.

Soldiers hold flares at the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushny in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 18, 2022.
(AP)

Budaev believes that several thousand soldiers from Buryatia were transferred there and that about 200 people died. But it is impossible to know the true number of victims. An independent newspaper in the regional center of Ulan-Ude claims that funerals take place once or twice a day.

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Families say their soldiers were deceived about their deployment, and another member of the Free Buryatia Foundation said their people were used as “cannon fodder.” The independent publication Mediazona believes that the Dagestanis died about the same as the Buryats (according to them, a little more than two hundred people) compared with nine in Moscow and thirty in St. Petersburg. Petersburg.

According to many Russian supporters, the Kremlin is especially sensitive to victims from the capital – if these numbers become significant, it could lead to civil unrest. But it is obvious that Moscow is nervous even now because of the mood in Buryatia. The government has just blocked the Free Buryatia website.

A woman wrapped in a Ukrainian flag attends the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushny in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 18, 2022.

A woman wrapped in a Ukrainian flag attends the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushny in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 18, 2022.
(AP)

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Budaev says the Buryat soldiers, perhaps not unlike their Russian comrades, don’t know what they’re doing in Ukraine.

“There are no Nazis in Ukraine.” Budaev said. “They (the Buryats) face Nazism in Russia. If Asian Russians go to Moscow, they hear insults. This is not our war. Not all Russians support this war. A lot of people want democracy.”