As the atrociously bloody battle for Bakhmut continues and attention focuses on whether Ukraine can hold on to the city, a little further to the south in the east of the country, another potentially far-reaching drama is unfolding.

According to Ukrainian authorities, commanders of Russia’s 155th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet are now refusing to carry out the Kremlin’s orders.

What is the 155th Brigade?

The 155th Brigade is a Russian marine infantry brigade that was formed in 2009 based in Vladivostok. On paper at least, it was viewed as an elite unit that saw action in the Russian campaign in support of the dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria and was a leading formation during the Kremlin’s original full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

So, what happened?

Ukrainian forces have nearly wiped out the brigade; several times. A Ukrainian journalist wrote on Facebook on 13 March 2022: “Units of the 155th separate marine brigade have been almost completely destroyed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It has been reported that as a result of poor decisions by brigade commanders, about 600 soldiers have been killed and as many injured. At the same time, the remaining personnel currently have no access to food and housing.”


Things didn’t get any better for the 155th Brigade as the war dragged on. In November, after continued heavy fighting in the Donetsk region, Russian servicemen wrote an open letter to Vladimir Putin in which they said they had lost 300 men in just four days of fighting. They blamed the military high command for the losses and requested an independent commission to investigate what was going wrong.

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How is the brigade still functioning?

According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the 155th Brigade has been reconstituted as much as seven times since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. A once elite unit is now made up almost entirely of poorly equipped conscripts. The ISW adds: “The combat effectiveness of this committed formation is likely negligible.”

What is it currently doing?

The 155th Brigade is part of the Russian assault on the eastern Ukrainian town of Vuhledar where it continues to suffer heavy losses. Social media is littered with videos reportedly showing the unit’s tanks and infantry fighting vehicles being destroyed by Ukrainian forces.


What’s the current situation around Vuhledar?

It has been reported that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has instructed his commanders to take Vuhledar at any cost which, for the 155th Brigade, would likely mean yet another incredibly costly offensive, with huge loss if life for little consequence.

The end result is an apparent mutiny in the works. A statement from a Ukrainian military spokesman said: "The leaders of the brigade and senior officers are refusing to proceed with a new senseless attack as demanded by their unskilled commanders - to storm well-defended Ukrainian positions with little protection or preparation".

Military analyst Oleg Zhdanov has reported that two "Cossack" Russian units, known as “Steppe and Tiger”, had also refused to participate on the new offensive on the hilltop town.

According to the ISW: “Russian forces are highly unlikely to be able to conduct any concentrated offensive effort with the current demoralized and degraded forces in the Vuhledar area.”


What’s going to happen next?

That’s unclear but the British Military analyst, Justin Crump, said: "Repeating the same thing time after time and hoping for a different outcome is a sign of madness.

It is his view and that of other Western analysts, as well as irate Russian military bloggers, that any further attempts by the 155th Brigade to take Vuhledar would be “ simply suicidal”.

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