When Viktor Zolotov, director of the Russian National Guard, briefed his boss, President Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday on the status of military operations in Ukraine, one remark in particular stood out.
“I especially want to emphasize that we feel the support of the population in the liberated territories,” Zolotov told a stone-faced Putin.
In reality, Russia has been struggling to rally the support of its own troops, according to internal government documents obtained exclusively by Yahoo News that detail drunken acts of insubordination six months into Putin’s invasion.
The documents include an incident and homicide report by the Russian Investigative Committee’s Military Investigations Department for the Black Sea Fleet regarding a June 19 incident in which three Russian soldiers were shot and killed and two others wounded in a gun battle with officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the KGB, at a bar in Kherson City, on the banks of the Dnieper River.
The city lies at the epicenter of an oblast that has been occupied by Russian forces since late February and which Ukraine yesterday appeared to launch operations to recapture. Details of that operation are hard to obtain, as Kyiv has announced a media blackout of ongoing military activities. But videos posted to social media show a series of Ukrainian artillery strikes on military installations, weapons and ammunition depots and key bridges have continued throughout the last 24 hours. In response, Russian air defenses have been activated throughout the oblast.
Kirill 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 have even been unconfirmed reports of gunfire in the Pivnichny and Tavriiske neighborhoods of Kherson.
Russia’s equivalent of the FBI can at least attest to gunfire in Kherson city two months ago — between Russians.
According to the Investigative Committee’s report, at about 8 p.m. on June 19, Igor Yakubinsky, Sergei Privalov and D.A. Borodin, three officers attached to the sub-division 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 Sgt. Igor Sudin “idly spending time, consuming alcoholic drinks,” according to the Investigative Committee documents.
The FSB officers remonstrated with the enlisted men for drinking while in uniform. Obukhov responded by removing his sidearm and firing rounds into the floor, the report stated. Privalov tried to grab the gun, whereupon Sudin started spraying the security servicemen with rounds from his AK-74 assault rifle, as Privalov and Yakubinsky returned fire.
Obukhov, Privalov and Yakubinsky “died on the spot,” according to the documents, while Borodin and Sudin were “hospitalized with injuries of varying degrees of severity at Federal Naval Clinical Hospital No. 1427 of the Russian Defense Ministry, located in Sevastopol,” in occupied Crimea. A fourth FSB officer, unidentified 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 shootout, which is now subject to a criminal case under the purview of V.O. Savchenko, an official in the Military Investigations Department, is the latest example of problems involving military discipline among Russian soldiers in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
Reports of Russian soldiers’ alcoholism have been rampant in Ukraine and morale has suffered as Putin’s war drags on without achieving its primary goal of regime change.
In Kherson, especially, Russian occupiers have been the targets of presumed Ukrainian guerrilla activities including assassinations and patrol ambushes. Earlier this month, Sky News quoted a local Ukrainian journalist in Kherson who told the outlet that in the suburbs of the city Russian soldiers parade around hammered, “a bottle of alcohol in one hand, a machine gun in the other.”