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Pentagon: Reluctant Russian troops are punching holes in their vehicle gas tanks to get out of fighting

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ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

Hampered by logistics problems, including lack of fuel and food, some Russian troops in Ukraine are reportedly surrendering en masse and even sabotaging their own vehicles to get out of the conflict, a U.S. defense official said Tuesday.

In some cases, entire Russian units have laid down their arms and surrendered without a fight after encountering stiff resistance from Ukrainian troops, a senior Pentagon official said, according to the New York Times. The official indicated that a significant number of Russian troops are young recruits who have been poorly trained and were not prepared for the full-scale invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. There are even reports that some Russian soldiers have deliberately punched holes in their vehicles' gas tanks, in what the U.S. official characterized as an attempt to avoid combat.

The Times reported that the Pentagon declined to say how military intelligence gathered this information, but it is presumed that statements from captured Russian soldiers or intercepted Russian communications played a role. There is no indication of how widespread these surrenders are.

But reluctant combatants may be one reason why Russia's advance into Ukraine has stalled, U.S. officials said.

Other reasons have to do with the reported shortages of fuel and food and with logistics problems that have prevented a nearly 40-mile long convoy of Russian tanks and armored vehicles from arriving at the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Pentagon officials said. Additionally, Ukraine's military is still organized and defending the country, and Ukrainian civilians have been armed and have joined the fight, engaging the Russians and attacking supply chains that are crucial to the war effort.

The U.S. officials indicated that Russian commanders leading the convoy may also be "regrouping and rethinking" their strategy, with a renewed push to put Kyiv under siege and capture the capital to come in the next several days.

“They have a lot of power available to them,” the Pentagon official said, noting that 80% of the more than 150,000 troops Russia had amassed along Ukraine's border over many months are now participating in the invasion.

Though Russia has vastly superior manpower and firepower, U.S. officials have been surprised by the apparent "risk-averse behavior" of Russia's forces, the Pentagon official said. The official noted, for example, that when the Russians launched an invasion from the Sea of Azov to capture the port city of Mariupol, they landed troops 40 miles from the city. The distance allowed the Russians more time to prepare their attack, but in turn gave the city time to mount a defense.

The Pentagon official also observed that Russia's reputably strong air force has yet to gain air superiority over Ukraine, as Ukrainian fighter jets, Stinger anti aircraft missiles, and other anti-air weapons are harassing the Russian warplanes.

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