A Russian elite unit's motivation dropped to "critical levels," a US think tank said.
Commanders were forced to choose between the wellbeing of troops and Kremlin retaliation, The Institute for the Study of War said.
Russian forces are seeking to prevent Ukraine breaking through on a key part of the front line.
A Russian elite unit's motivation to fight dropped to "critical levels" amid high casualties in Ukraine, analysts said.
The respected Institute for the Study of War said that morale was ebbing in the VDV paratrooper force deployed near the city of Bakhmut.
It cited the analysis to a post by a recently-departed commander, Alexander Khodakovsky, who served on the front lines. He is now a member of Russia's active miliblogger community, a source of unofficial but often accurate information about Russia's war effort.
In the post, Khodakovsky recalled a conversation with another senior officer, the VDV's Andrei Kondrashkin, who was in Bakhmut.
Kondrashkin said, per the post, that "his forces suffered personnel losses and that their motivation to fight dropped to a critical level."
Russia's VDV units have been deployed in the region to make counterattacks to slow Ukraine's counteroffensive, suffering high casualties.
"Kondrashkin reportedly stated that the Russian military command demanded that his forces undertake 'decisive actions,' while he knew that his personnel were suffering a critical lack of motivation," the ISW said.
Khodakovsky said that he told Kondrashkin that had to "make a choice to either 'waste' his troops in combat or protest the Russian military command's order at the expense of his career."
But Khodakovsky claimed that Kondrashkin was killed in action before he could decide.
A senior commander, General Mikhail Teplinsky, then stepped in and "saved" the VDV unit by allowing them to take a break from front line combat, risking the wrath of superiors by doing so.
Russia's VDV units suffered high casualties in the initial weeks of the conflict, when they spearheaded Russia's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to quickly conquer Ukraine and seize its capital.
In more recent weeks, they've been deployed to try and stem Ukraine's counteroffensive. Traditionally, the units are used for specialised operations, not infantry combat.
Reports have emerged in recent weeks of heavy casualties in Russian units launching counterattacks to slow Ukraine's counteroffensive in the east and south of the country.
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