Moscow has reportedly struggled to enforce military discipline in Ukraine.
The US on Thursday accused Russia of executing soldiers who have failed to follow orders and threatening entire units with death if they retreat from Ukrainian fire.
This reflects morale problems among the Kremlin's conscript army 20 months into its grinding invasion of Ukraine, White House national security council spokesman John Kirby said.
“It’s reprehensible to think that you would execute your own soldiers because they didn’t want to follow orders and now threatening to execute entire units," Kirby told reporters.
The US official did not provide any details on how many Russian troops have been executed for defying commands or any specific examples of units threatened with death for retreating.
His assessment corroborates with claims that Chechen fighters from southern Russia have been used to enforce discipline on disgruntled Russian troops, executing deserters and those who try to defect to the Ukrainian side.
Reports also exist, including from the British Defence Ministry, that the regular Russian military has deployed “barrier troops” that threaten to shoot any deserters.
An ex-mercenary from the Russian Wagner Group told Euronews in July that his force acted as a second line behind regular Russian troops on the front - “conscripts barely 21-years-old” - to ensure they would not retreat, owing to sheer lack of discipline and willingness to fight.
“They [Russian conscripts] are not motivated, they’re weak, they were taken from the streets and told: Go to war,” he said. “If their commander falls, they tend to surrender fast.”
On Thursday, Kirby said Putin is “literally throwing young men into the fight who haven’t been properly trained and equipped” to make advances against Ukraine’s progressing counteroffensive.
“President Putin is not giving up on his aspirations to take all of Ukraine and as long as Russia continues its brutal assault we have to continue to support the Ukrainian people and their self-defence because his intentions are clear,” he said.
The White House has continued to release intelligence findings about Russian actions since the invasion started in February 2022.
It says they are needed to inform its allies about Moscow’s intent and make Russia second guess its military operations.
The number of Russians escaping from the army has lept, the British Ministry of Defence said in May.