‘Cronies unit’ keeps Russian MPs and sons 50 miles from front line
Russian MPs have been accused of setting up a remote reconnaissance unit far behind the front line so they and their military-age sons can serve in Ukraine without being killed.
The Kremlin has told politicians to back its invasion if they want to earn the respect of ordinary Russians.
Since then, Russian MPs have signed up to serve in the secretive Cascade unit, based somewhere in Donbas, for a month or so – guaranteeing useful photos of themselves in military uniform, and perhaps a medal.
VKCh-OGPU, an influential Russian blog channel that claims to have close ties to the country’s defence establishment, published lists of politicians from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party who have served with Cascade.
“This is a ‘cronies detachment’ that includes deputies and their children who want to mark themselves down as having been in the war but don’t feel like going to the front line,” the channel reported on Telegram.
The son of Dmitri Sablin, the MP who founded the unit and currently leads it, has been pictured in Ukraine serving alongside its other members.
Exiled Russian opposition figures living in the West have pointed out that the sons of powerful Russians have almost all managed to avoid Russia’s first mobilisation since 1941.
Cascade was set up in October, a month after Putin gave the mobilisation order, but it is not clear how much fighting the unit actually does.
“The most comfortable place for ‘passing service’ is the drone detachment in Cascade, since it allows you to stay a safe distance from the line of combat,” said VKCh-OGPU.
Photos show soldiers from Cascade preparing drones and studying computer monitors in comfortable bunkers – scenes far removed from the blood and mud of the front line.
Cascade frames itself as a semi-secret special operations unit, which means it can avoid revealing its location, although Mr Sablin said in one Telegram post that his soldiers were based in Rubizhne, around 50 miles from the front line.
Even if it is not the most daring unit, Cascade may be the best connected and receives regular high-ranking visits. Sergey Kiriyenko, the first deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, has visited three times.
During Mr Kiriyenko’s last visit on March 16, Mr Sablin wrote on his Telegram feed that he had discussed how he keeps his “personnel safe” before he introduced his visitor to a fighter in a pro-Russia Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) unit.
“These heroic guys bear the brunt of the battles for the liberation of the DNR,” he said.