Russia is executing soldiers who have failed to follow orders and is threatening entire units with death if they retreat from Ukrainian artillery fire, the White House said.

It is a development that reflects Russia’s morale problems 20 months into its grinding invasion of Ukraine, said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

“It’s reprehensible to think about, that you would execute your own soldiers because they didn’t want to follow orders, and now threatening to execute entire units, it’s barbaric,” Mr Kirby told reporters. “But I think it’s a symptom of how poorly Russia’s military leaders know they’re doing and how bad they have handled this from a military perspective.”

The White House has downgraded and released intelligence findings about Russian action over the course of the war.

Russia Ukraine War
A group of Ukrainian marines sail from the river bank of Dnipro at the frontline near Kherson (Alex Babenko/AP)

In the past, the administration has said it has acted to disclose the intelligence to highlight plans for Russian misinformation and other activity so allies remain clear-eyed about Moscow’s intent and Russia thinks twice before carrying out an operation.

This latest unveiling of intelligence about Russia’s struggles comes as President Joe Biden is pressing the Republican-controlled House to go along with providing more funding for Ukraine as Kyiv tries to repel Russia.

Mr Kirby pointed to the information as he renewed a plea for Congress to pass a nearly 106 billion dollar supplemental funding request that Mr Biden unveiled last week. The funding request includes more than 61 billion dollars for Ukraine.

“President Putin is not giving up on his aspirations to take all of Ukraine and as long as Russia continues its brutal assault we have to continue to support the Ukrainian people and their self defence, because his intentions are clear,” Mr Kirby said.

“Putin basically said that if Western weapons to Ukraine stop, Ukraine would have a week to live. So to ensure that we can continue to do that it’s critical that Congress step up and pass the supplemental requests that the president put forward last week,” he added.

Mr Kirby did not provide any details on how many Russian troops have been executed for failing to follow orders or any specific examples of units threatened with execution for retreating from Ukrainian fire.

The Wagner Group military contractor was reported to have had a practice of executing those who fled.

The contract soldiers were pulled out of Ukraine after their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, mounted an armed rebellion in June. There also have been reports, including from the British Ministry of Defence, that the regular Russian military has deployed “barrier troops” that threaten to shoot any deserters.

“They are in such desperate need to make some kind of progress, particularly in the Donbas, the Donetsk areas, that they are literally throwing young men into the fight who haven’t been properly trained, haven’t been properly equipped, and certainly are not being properly led,” Mr Kirby said.