S. Ossetian Servicemen Make Puzzling Retreat from Ukraine

Multiple South Ossetian servicemen, deployed to fight in Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, have unexpectedly shown up back in Tskhinvali Region, reportedly after refusing to fight.

Footage disseminated by S. Ossetian Telegram channels on March 30 shows about a dozen troops — apparently traveling on foot — at the North Ossetian/Russian side of the Roki Tunnel, the sole crossing point into the occupied region.

Blogger Alik Puhati, a South Ossetian native, wrote on Twitter that about 300 soldiers of Russia’s 4th military base in the occupied region had returned “of their own free will.”

Most of the troops were ethnic Ossetians, according to the blogger.

“They thought they had been left for dead during a special operation in Ukraine,” Puhati reported. “They hitchhiked home.”

The development came after the Strategic Communications Directorate of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported on March 30 that almost all personnel of a battalion tactical group — two motorized infantry companies — from Russia’s 4th military base had refused to participate in the war.

It said that Russians transferred the troops to the Kuzminsky firing range, some 50 kilometers from Ukraine, to convince them to return to the fight. “However the calls to continue the tasks were unsuccessful.”

The General Staff of Ukraine has said earlier that Russia brought three battalion tactical groups — 1,200 troops in total – from Tskhinvali, where both Russian troops and S. Ossetian contractors serve in the 4th military base under the Russian command.

Tskhinvali Leadership Faces Criticism

“The attitude of the authorities towards our soldiers shocked the entire Ossetian people,” Eduard Kokoity, former Tskhinvali leader lashed out on March 23 at Anatoly Bibilov, the incumbent.

“We couldn’t even think the problems are so large-scale,” he said in Telegram ahead of the troops’ return, stressing “they have been deprived of their decent uniforms.”

After the servicemen showed up back in Tskhinvali, Kokoity further stressed that “no one has the right to condemn these guys or accuse them of cowardice.”

“It is necessary to understand the root causes of what happened and find out how their participation was organized.”

He claimed that the troops would “without a doubt” return back to the battleground in Ukraine “if they deem it necessary, with the proper organization of their participation.”

Meanwhile, Ruslan Totrov, a columnist on Ossetian affairs, on March 31 slammed Bibilov over the “forced merger of Ossetian military personnel into the Russian army.” 

Speaking about the deployment of Tskhinvali troops to Ukraine, Totrov said “there was no rapport between [South] Ossetian soldiers and Russian commanders from the get-go, as the former didn’t buy into the latter’s strategy and tactics in the territory they were fighting in.”

“Ossetians were expected to carelessly attack well-defended Ukrainian positions in the kamikaze style, without any well thought through strategy,” Totrov added.

Bibilov himself first confirmed reports that S. Ossetian troops had been deployed to Ukraine on March 20.

While stressing that he was not the one to “give the order,” Bibilov spoke in support of the deployment of the 4th military base units in Ukraine. “When our friend is under the gun… we will stand side by side.”

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