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Russian troops are threatening to 'shoot their own soldiers' if they run away, with Putin's army set to withdraw from Kherson
4 November 2022, 19:06
Russia has probably set up "blocking units" to shoot their own soldiers if their morale wavers and they start to retreat, according to British defence chiefs.
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Vladimir Putin's commanders are also thought to be trying to keep their forces in place "to the death" defensively - although the Russian army is reportedly set to retreat from Kherson, a strategically important port city north-east of Crimea.
Britain's ministry of defence said on Friday: "Due to low morale and reluctance to fight, Russian forces have probably started deploying ‘barrier troops’ or ‘blocking units’.
“These units threaten to shoot their own retreating soldiers in order to compel offensives and have been used in previous conflicts by Russian forces.”
The briefing added: “Recently, Russian generals likely wanted their commanders to use weapons against deserters, including possibly authorising shooting to kill such defaulters after a warning had been given.
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“Generals also likely wanted to maintain defensive positions to the death.
“The tactic of shooting deserters likely attests to the low quality, low morale and indiscipline of Russian forces.”
Moscow-appointed authorities in southern Ukraine's occupied Kherson region said Russian troops were likely to leave the city of Kherson on Friday - a claim that Ukrainian officials greeted with some scepticism.
The Kremlin-installed regional administration has already moved tens of thousands of civilians out of the city, citing the threat of increased shelling as Ukraine's army pursues a counter-offensive to reclaim the region.
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Authorities removed the Russian flag from the Kherson administration building on Thursday, a week after the regional government moved out.
Ukraine's southern military spokeswoman, Natalia Humeniuk, said the flag's removal could be a ruse "and we should not hurry to rejoice".
She told Ukrainian television that some Russian military personnel are disguising themselves as civilians.
The Soviet Union also had blocking units in the Second World War to shoot troops who retreated when defending their country from Nazi invaders.
Josef Stalin's infamous order 227 in July 1942 told soldiers that they were not to take "one step back".