In the Depths of Struggle: A Glimpse into Russian Soldiers’ Lives
The second month of Ukraine’s counteroffensive brought a harrowing reality to light as Andrey, a Russian soldier, made a desperate call to his wife. His words painted a grim picture of his unit’s dire circumstances, comparing it to the hardships of Soviet forces in World War II. Andrey’s call was just one of 17 intercepted by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in early July, offering a rare glimpse into the plight of Russian soldiers during Kyiv’s major counteroffensive that commenced in June.
Struggles on the Frontlines
While Russia has managed to halt Ukraine’s military advances and gain some territorial footholds, the intercepted calls reveal the agony within Russian military units. Soldiers voiced their grievances, citing heavy losses, insufficient ammunition, inadequate training, equipment shortages, and deteriorating morale. Both Russia and Ukraine have closely guarded their casualty figures, shrouding the true cost of the conflict in secrecy. Ukraine’s attempts to regain territory have been thwarted by well-prepared defenses and extensive Russian minefields, leaving the frontlines mostly unchanged, much to the frustration of Western allies.
Decrypting the Intercepted Calls
The intercepted conversations provide a partial view of Russian soldiers’ conditions, making it challenging to gauge the overall state of Russia’s armed forces. Nevertheless, military analysts, including Neil Melvin from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), suggest that these calls confirm some Russian troops were thrust into defensive operations with little preparation, resulting in high casualties and strained relations between soldiers and their commanders.
Remarkably, Russia’s Ministry of Defence has remained silent regarding these revelations. In December, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged the military’s need for improvement in light of the challenges faced in Ukraine. He pledged to provide the necessary support, and recent reports indicate a substantial increase in Russia’s defense spending, reaching over $100 billion, a significant portion of public expenditure.
The SBU’s Watchful Eye
The SBU, Ukraine’s primary intelligence agency, asserted its constant monitoring of the situation in occupied parts of Ukraine, including phone intercepts. However, details about their methods and scope remain undisclosed.
Unveiling Soldier Identities
The SBU disclosed names, telephone numbers, and units of 15 soldiers mentioned in the intercepted calls. Reuters verified that the mobile numbers were registered in the names of the enlisted soldiers or their relatives. However, attempts to contact them yielded unanswered calls or turned-off phones. To protect the soldiers’ identities, Reuters only utilized excerpts from 10 individuals whose identities could be verified through messaging accounts or social media profiles.
The Ongoing Struggles
In the intercepted calls, soldiers resorted to profanity when describing units that suffered heavy casualties and struggled to recover their wounded comrades. One soldier lamented the high price his detachment paid for advancing.
Maxim, hailing from the Siberian region of Irkutsk, shared a grim tale of his battalion on the Lyman front. This unit, usually consisting of around 500 troops, had been reduced to mere remnants. Unfortunately, Reuters could not confirm Maxim’s affiliation with Russia’s 52nd Regiment or which second battalion he referred to, as the regiment remained unreachable.
The Grim Term: “Cargo 200”
Maxim’s reference to fallen comrades as “Cargo 200” harkens back to the Soviet Union’s Afghan War, using this term as a military codeword for zinc coffins used to transport deceased Russian soldiers. The fact that wounded soldiers became “Cargo 200” underscores the dire situation on the battlefield.
Following months of relentless Ukrainian resistance, Putin announced a “partial” mobilization of hundreds of thousands of reservists to reinforce the ranks. However, this effort encountered challenges, as revealed by soldier Alexei. He decried the concealment of troop losses and questioned the leadership’s commitment to adequately equip troops sent to the frontlines.
Russian officials have denied plans for a new wave of mobilization, emphasizing recruitment of professional soldiers. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, reported that 185,000 new recruits had joined as professional contract soldiers since the beginning of the year. However, the intercepted calls indicate ongoing challenges within the Russian military.
The intercepted calls from Russian soldiers in Ukraine unveil the struggles and hardships faced by these servicemen on the frontlines. From inadequate equipment to high casualties and dwindling morale, these revelations shed light on a rarely seen aspect of the conflict. While the complete extent of these issues remains uncertain, they underscore the formidable challenges Russia faces