by Bethany Elliott
Tuesday, 8
November 2022
News
10:00

Anti-war Russians are sabotaging Putin’s railways

Online groups are damaging links near the Belarusian border
by Bethany Elliott
Railways are once again the focus of saboteurs

As purges gripped 1930s Soviet society, a poster of the era reveals the regime’s preoccupation with one particularly dangerous class of saboteur — the railway worker. Admonishing the Soviet proletariat to “be vigilant” and “detect saboteurs in transport”, it is a placard which Russian President Vladimir Putin may soon find himself recycling for contemporary use. 

Last week, former president and current deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitri Medvedev complained of foreign students disabling railroad facilities in the Russian city of Ufa “because they disagree with the policies” of the country. Further alleging that pro-Ukraine Russian citizens are committing acts of sabotage from within, he warned that Russia’s moratorium on the death penalty could be “overridden” for these cases and that the suitable punishment for “such scoundrels” is “execution without trial”.

Medvedev has reason to be concerned. The UK Ministry of Defence last month noted that Russia’s military is heavily reliant upon railway transport for sending soldiers and supplies to the frontline in Ukraine. However, with lines stretching over 33,000 km, often in isolated areas, the authorities cannot realistically hope to secure every part of the network against the risk of saboteurs. 

It appears that, with anti-war protests brutally suppressed, activists have been taking matters into their own hands. Just last month, it was reported that an explosive device had damaged the main rail link between Russia and southern Belarus near the village of Novozybkov.

Indeed, saboteurs have been successfully impairing Russia’s war effort since the outbreak of the conflict. The Washington Post reported that Russia’s hopes for a 72-hour invasion were dashed by Belarusian railway workers, dissident security forces and hackers who, in the earliest days of the invasion, damaged signal control cabinets. This, in turn, forced the Russian military to re-supply by road and thereby created the conditions for a 40-mile military convoy to stall outside Kyiv and slow the Russians’ advance.

Railway sabotage, 1930s style.

As early as March, Belarusian special forces were going undercover in train stations to detect wreckers, while the Ukrainian General Staff thanked “caring citizens” for hampering the movement of Russian equipment by partially disabling a railway line between Ukraine and Belarus. 

This situation is especially troubling for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Propped up by the Kremlin since the 2020 protests against his 28-year rule, the former collective farm manager offered Belarus as a launching pad for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rendering his country’s territory and railway lines vital for resupplying Russia’s troops. 

His use to the Kremlin is now diminishing with every successful act of sabotage on Belarusian land. Consequently, the strongman is showing signs of worry. In May, Lukashenko widened the application of the death penalty to include attempted acts of terrorism. 

Last month, the Belarusian dictator blamed the sabotage on foreign influence, informing a State Security Council meeting that “the training in Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine of militants, including Belarusian radicals, to carry out sabotage and terrorist attacks and organise a military rebellion in Belarus is becoming a direct threat.” Around 60 Belarusian “railway guerrillas” have been arrested, with those convicted facing sentences of up to 15 years in prison.

Yet both Lukashenko and Putin will struggle to tackle these “radicals”, thanks to the profusion of information and resources available online. Activists have been forming networks and posting helpful advice on channels such as Telegram, whether through ‘Stop the Wagons’ (an organisation advising on sabotage techniques and suitable locations), the ‘Community of Railway Workers’ (a channel sharing details of Russian military movements and the locations of key infrastructure) or ‘Cyber Partisans’ (a network of exiled Belarusian IT experts hacking their homeland’s rail infrastructure from abroad). 

Revelling in their victories online, activists are even taking inspiration from Soviet partisans who struck at the railway infrastructure during Nazi occupation, naming their struggle the “Rail War” in their honour. 

Sabotage efforts are exacerbating an already faltering war effort. Now, Russia is facing opponents not just on the battlefield but at home. As such, Vladimir Putin is realising there is no enemy quite so dangerous as the one within.

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CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
19 days ago

Mr Putin is very fortunate indeed that he does NOT have to deal with the wretched RMT, ASLEF, & TSSA*

(UK Railway Unions for American readers.).

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
19 days ago

Conversely, they should be grateful they don’t have to deal with him.

But of course, their leaders wouldn’t have objected to having to deal with previous Kremlin regimes.

martin logan
martin logan
17 days ago

You can’t make this up.
The gauleiter of Kherson just died in a car accident–and a Russian reporter then proudly displayed the nom de guerre written on his pass:
“Stalin”
Putin has poisoned everything and everybody in Russia.

martin logan
martin logan
18 days ago

This will be a long war, regardless of whether the West continues to fully support Ukraine.
Russia’ objective is simple–and unachievable: to change the identity of 40 million people. This can only be done with an incredible amount of resources, accompanied by an incredible amount of brute force.
But Russia simply lacks the resources to militarily occupy even part of the country. Significantly, even high-ranking Russian officials can’t be protected in Russian-occupied Ukraine.
Moreover, no sane Ukrainian would dare live under the Russian regime that now prevails in places like Kherson and Mariupol. Even if they favor Putin and Russia, there is no way most can prove their loyalty. As with Stalin’s policies after WW2, they will always be categorized as traitors for having lived under the “Nazi” regime. Until physically conquered, they will continue to support Zelensky.
The great unknown is whether Putin (or, more likely, his successors) can replicate a fully Stalinist regime. If it can, then the war will last longer. A ceasefire will only be a means to rebuild the army.
Putin and his circle see this as an existential issue for themselves. To them, even the destruction of Russia is a small price to pay for their own survival.

Last edited 18 days ago by Martin Logan
martin logan
martin logan
18 days ago

What’s striking is that Russia’s actions exactly mirror that of the Arabs WRT Israel in the latter part of the 20th C. An independent Israel was anathema to leaders like Nasser, who also hoped to unite the Arab World.
They kept attacking–and kept losing.
Eventually they decided that neither Arab unity nor the destruction of Israel actually made much sense. So, they made accommodations, and learned to live with an independent Israel.
But then Arabs are intelligent people.
(How about Kherson, BTW?)

Last edited 18 days ago by Martin Logan
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
19 days ago

I am surprised that the Ukrainians haven’t made a move on Belarus where it appears most of the population would be glad to get rid of Lukashenko.
Obviously Putin and the West would view that as an escalation – but since it’s likely western support for Ukraine will decline in the next few months, especially after the Republican gains in the midterms, they really have nothing to lose by involving Belarus now: Escalate the war to the point where the West can’t reduce their support by taking it outside Ukraine.

Last edited 19 days ago by Ian Stewart
Aaron James
Aaron James
19 days ago

Careful what you wish for.

This new phase of war by another means has never been possible before – the taking out of international pipelines, cables, freight, power lines, energy supply – Hacking vital computer controlled systems…. But it is now. It is where things could go if escalation instead of treaty and peace.

This war is going to cause Famine in the developing world – fuel and fertilizer poverty…And it may destroy the European economy – pensions may be toast already…

Thats right – it is so hard to stop because Biden forbids it – forbids peace – the reasons are not known – Military-Industrial? WEF Capture? Ukraine and/or Russia holds the dirt on the Biden and Clinton Families? (who always used Ukraine as their piggy bank). But Biden decided this would be his legacy, a gentler WWIII –

The thing is today the Americans vote, and Biden will not be the autocrat anymore – saner heads will have a say, and the treaty table will be used.

martin logan
martin logan
18 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Obviously, you are unfamiliar with British history.
The problem with such attacks, as the Blitz and the V-weapon campaigns demonstrated, is that they anger people more than they frighten them. It simply makes the war more existential, and subsequent retaliation more severe.
But perhaps you can think of instances where Russians capitulated to such attacks?

David Giles
David Giles
18 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

“the reasons are not known”

Because you’re making it up you little Quisling.

martin logan
martin logan
18 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Looks like Biden won’t have much to worry about after all.
And since most of the GOP wants to supply Ukraine, it’s an even bigger win for Zelensky.
Funny how a lot of prophecies don’t pan out.

Jim Thomson
Jim Thomson
14 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Slavic phraseology.Russia should again recruit from Cambridge.

Tim Lever
Tim Lever
19 days ago

Given that several NATO countries have been implicated in attacks in Ukraine and specifically the UK has been accused of planning and aiding the bombing of the Kerch bridge (in Crimea, which is de facto Russia), should we take at face value that these attacks are by Russian protesters and not by foreign nationals? After all it has been explicitly stated by Biden that “regime change” is the objective in Russia. Also, Putin is known to be popular amongst the Russian public.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
18 days ago
Reply to  Tim Lever

Russian disinfo. Ignore.

martin logan
martin logan
18 days ago
Reply to  Tim Lever

That’s why Russian support for the war has dropped from 26% to 16%.

Steve White
Steve White
19 days ago

I am so glad to not be a Putin supporter. It’s so good that Boris was able to come from England and talk Zelinski out of peace talks with Russia back in the Spring. The sanctions have been so successful. Look at how much the Russian people are suffering, their currency is crashing, look at all this internal strife and sabatoge they are having, and we’re not even sure if they have enough energy to make it through the winter.
And look at all the gains Ukraine has been able to accomplish, sadly at the cost of all those lives. Now they are in so much better of a position to negotiate an even better outcome! We were all told, and we all knew that Russia was so weak and that Ukraine would be able to beat them back like this, and boy has it happened. All the billions poured into Ukraine, more and more weapons. It’s all been a game changer…
I am so glad that I listened to all the smart people, all the right people told us the way things were, and they were right. We’re right to get behind them! They never tell us lies. They never stretch the truth. They can be trusted! They’re the good guys after all, and have our good in mind, Ukraine’s good in mind, and they are trying to save us from dangerous things like nuclear war, and WWIII and things like that. So smart, so good, so honest, so trustworthy. It’s a good thing I agreed and am good and smart and thoughtful and got behind the right things they said were true. I’m sure Russia is going to collapse or they’er going to get rid of Putin any day now. Keep fighting the good fight people!

Last edited 19 days ago by Steve White
J W
J W
19 days ago
Reply to  Steve White

The pathetic rancid sarcasm of a Russia apologist or bot.

Aaron James
Aaron James
19 days ago
Reply to  J W

It was excellent sarcasm – the problem is to you all his statements are really true – you and the down voters – you believe everything he is parodying – That is why you Down Vote – because he points out the ridiculous position the MSM Agenda has planted in your brain.

Do you all Neo-Con, Neo-Liberal warmongers flush with pride in your war as you pay the gas bill? The light bill, fill the car tank? Knowing it is for the Greater Good – for Democracy?

Michael Davis
Michael Davis
18 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Are you Aaron’s sister???

martin logan
martin logan
18 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Yep, I feel very pleased with myself.
We obliterated Russia in 1990, and now we’re doing it again. Go to Central Asia, the Baltics and the southern Caucasus to see how popular it was–and is.
It isn’t that we like democracy more.
It’s that we like Russia less.

George K
George K
17 days ago
Reply to  Steve White

Sounds like the panic of a loser.