MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russia's defence ministry acknowledged on Wednesday (March 9) that some conscripts were taking part in the conflict with Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin denied this on various occasions, saying only professional soldiers and officers had been sent in.
The ministry said that some of them, serving in supply units, had been taken prisoner by the Ukrainian army since the fighting began on Feb 24.
Citing Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the RIA news agency said Putin had ordered military prosecutors to investigate and punish the officials responsible for disobeying his instructions to exclude conscripts from the operation.
Some associations of soldiers' mothers in Russia had raised concerns about a number of conscripts going incommunicado at the start of what Kremlin calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine, suggesting they could have been sent to fight despite a lack of adequate training.
The Kremlin and military authorities had denied it until now. Last week, Russia's parliament passed a law imposing a prison term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally "fake" news about the military.
"Unfortunately, we have discovered several facts of the presence of conscripts in units taking part in the special military operation in Ukraine. Practically all such soldiers have been pulled out to Russia," the defence ministry said, promising to prevent such situations in the future.
One mother of a conscript, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said her 19-year-old son's military unit was sent south to the Russian city of Kursk soon after he started his military service and was then moved to Belgorod, a town closer to the Ukrainian border, for training.
She says that judging by the few phone calls she had received, he had not yet been deployed into Ukraine and had not signed a contract to do so. "I am not sure what will happen tomorrow," she told Reuters by telephone.