Kyiv – Six months after his war on Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling on his nation to build a larger army. He has ordered an increase of 137,000 troops since January.
But if CBS News correspondent Deborah Patta’s rare, candid conversation with a Russian paratrooper is anything to go by, Putin’s plans may reflect a growing sense of resentment among young people sent across Russia’s borders to sneer at the leader..
Paratrooper Pavel Filatyev told Patta that he was so disgusted with the war that he gave up and decided to tell his story – even at great personal risk. His account is all the more remarkable because he is the first Russian soldier to break the ranks and publish an insider account of how to fight Putin’s war.
As missiles rained down on Ukraine in the early hours of February 24, it was impossible to ignore that Vladimir Putin was planning something truly terrifying. Surprisingly, many Russian soldiers on the front lines had no idea that they had just invaded Ukraine. They were not even told what to do.
“We just started moving forward,” Filatev told CBS News. “When the shooting started, we thought NATO was coming at us, not Ukraine.”
He told Patta that he had served in Russia’s 56th Air Assault Regiment, which had been sent across the border to capture the southern region of Kherson at the beginning of the conflict.
“It was only after 10 days when I realized that there is no NATO here, they are only Ukrainians,” he said.
Patta asked the Russian soldier if he had been tricked.
“I know we’ve been tricked for years and everything has been shown [Russian] State TV has nothing to do with reality,” he said. “Every person in Russia knows this. We have been lied to for years and unfortunately the same is happening now in war.
Filatyev provided documents that verify his credentials and support his claim to have served in the regiment, but CBS News was unable to independently verify his account.
The injury eventually forced him out, but he said he was stuck until then.
“The Russian paratroop brigade has the same attitude as the US Navy SEALs – it’s cowardly and shameful to lay down your weapons and leave your post,” he told Patta. “Although we began to understand that this war was wrong, we did not know what to do.”
With old weapons and no food, water or blankets in the cold early spring days, Filatyev said he and his fellow soldiers were forced to steal supplies, but he said many went too far.
“Lots of laptops and cell phones were looted. I understand why – not only are they paid very little, but when they think they will die tomorrow, human greed takes over,” he said.
Filatev said that the commander confiscated his and other Russian soldiers’ phones during the battle, so he has no video or photos of the battle.
As forRussia stands , Filatev said he only learned of the allegations when he gave up fighting and finally gained access to the Internet. He insisted that he himself had not witnessed any atrocities.
“At first I didn’t want to believe it was true,” he said. “It’s horrifying to me to know that there are people in my military, in our country, who have committed this act.”
As the terrible, ugly truth began to sink in, Filatyev said many of his comrades went to extremes to avoid a fight with Ukraine.
“They will deliberately shoot themselves in the foot and pretend it’s an accident, so that they’re sent home and paid huge compensation,” he told Patta.
Asked what made him decide to risk coming forward to tell his story, Filatyev said “because if nothing is done there will be a nuclear war or our government will turn Russia into North Korea.”
Filatev fled Russia when he came forward to tell his story, which he first published in a 141-page memoir detailing his role in the invasion of Kherson. But even if he manages to escape, he does not reveal his location. He now essentially lives in hiding, fearing for his own safety.