Putin uses minorities as ‘cannon fodder’, Buryat soldiers return from Ukraine

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Human rights groups have long pointed out that Russia’s poorer regions are paying the highest price for the war in Ukraine. Now some of those caught up in this war speak for themselves.

One hundred and fifty Buryat soldiers terminated their military contracts earlier this month, according to members of the Free Buryatia Foundation, a pro-democracy group based in the United States and representing his constituency from abroad.

A group of soldiers’ wives and mothers recorded a video call to the governor of Buryatia to let the military go home. The video caused a stir and was quickly taken down by its intimidated producers.

But the men are said to have returned home after a detour to a closed military installation in Lugansk for a few days. Yet the fact that the soldiers have returned may give other groups hope that they too will be able to recall their families.

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In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense Press Office on July 7, 2022, Ukrainian soldiers set up the state flag on Snake Island in the Black Sea.
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In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense Press Office on July 7, 2022, Ukrainian soldiers set up the state flag on Snake Island in the Black Sea.
(Ukrainian Defense Ministry Press Office via AP)

Buryatia, according to Vladimir Budaev of the Free Buryatia Foundation, ranks 81st among 85 wealthy regions of the Russian Federation. In other words, it is almost the poorest part of the country.

The Buryats are closely related to the Mongolian people. Budaev claims that the Eastern Siberia region is kept artificially poor by the center, by the Kremlin, in order to keep it dependent on Moscow’s largesse. Buryatia has one of the highest war casualty rates in Russia.

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

For many, before the war, the army was the only real social lift. During peacetime, military jobs were more like civil service jobs. In a region where average monthly salaries are less than $400 per month, a salary that can now be almost eight times more attractive. Paid and aggressive recruiting is all Russian President Putin has at this point to advance his war machine.

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

Soldiers hold flares as they attend the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushnyi in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 18, 2022.

Soldiers hold flares as they attend the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushnyi in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 18, 2022.
(AP)

Budaev believes that a few thousand Buryatia troops deployed and around 200 were killed. But it is impossible to know the true number of victims. An independent media outlet in the regional capital of Ulan-Ude says there is a funeral or two every day.

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The 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”. Independent media outlet MediaZona estimates Dagestanis died in similar numbers to Buryats (just over two hundred they confirmed) compared to nine in Moscow and thirty in St Petersburg.

According to many Russian supporters, the Kremlin is particularly sensitive to the victims of the capital – if these figures become significant, it could lead to civil unrest. But it is clear that Moscow is also worried about the mood in Buryatia now. The government has just blocked the Free Buryatia website.

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

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

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Budaev says Buryat soldiers, perhaps a bit like their Russian comrades, don’t know what they are doing in Ukraine.

“There are no Nazis in Ukraine,” Budaev said. “They (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. Many people want the democracy.”

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