In late September, Vladimir Putin ordered the partial mobilization of Russian forces for his war of aggression in Ukraine. Almost 300,000 people were called to arms. Meanwhile, the first conscripts have arrived on the front line and have to realize that there are gaping gaps in the supply of the armed forces.
According to the British "Guardian", reports from the front ensured that newly drafted soldiers stocked up on the essentials at their own expense before they moved in - from thermal underwear to protective vests. Dozens of discussion groups have sprung up on Telegram, with mothers, sisters and wives discussing where to buy equipment for their conscripted relatives before they are sent to Ukraine.
Olesya Shishkanova recently posted on the Russian network VK a phone call she recorded last week with her 23-year-old brother Vladimir. In it, Vladimir laments: "They didn't give us any equipment at all. The army has nothing, we had to buy all our equipment ourselves." He even had to paint over his gun to cover the rust. "It's a nightmare," Vladimir continued. "Soon they will force us to buy our own grenades."
A worker at a soldier support group said that the local recruiting office in Sverdlovsk "strongly advises" newly mobilized soldiers to bring their own gear, although the Ministry of Defense says all mobilized soldiers will be outfitted and equipped.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed in the National Security Council on Wednesday that newly drafted soldiers "must be provided with everything they need." This applies in particular to equipment, nutrition and medical care. But that is exactly what is missing, many front-line fighters report.
"It's bad enough that our men are taken away from us," Anastasia, a teacher from Bryansk, a Russian city less than 100 miles from the Ukrainian border, told The Guardian. "But we also had to spend a whole month's salary on my husband's gear just so he has at least a chance to come back. Frankly, it's totally embarrassing. It's a mess."
"Our warehouse is empty. Sleeping bags were sold out two days after the mobilization was announced," Aleksei, the owner of a hiking and outdoor store in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth-largest city, told The Guardian. The run on the equipment has led to sometimes absurd price increases. According to a report by the business magazine Kommersant, the price of bulletproof vests has risen by 500 percent, so that they are now selling for up to 50,000 rubles (810 euros). Similar price increases can be seen for helmets and basic camping gear.
But for many Russian soldiers it seems to be essential for survival. What little equipment the army issues to newly mobilized soldiers appears outdated or inadequate. In a video circulating on social media, a mobilized Russian soldier complains that he was given a protective vest for airsoft games that isn't actually bulletproof.
Similarly, when Vladimir called from the front, Vladimir told his sister that his unit had received airsoft scopes. Actually absurd if you consider that the Russian defense budget is almost 59 billion dollars.
The reasons why the Russian army is in an apparently catastrophic state are theft and the corruption that has grown over the years. Among others, the Russian opposition figure Alexej Navalny and the research platform "Bellingcat" repeatedly reported in the past about agreements between high-ranking military officials who enriched themselves with orders from the Ministry of Defence. This is reported, among other things, by “Politico”.
An investigation by the British Ministry of Defense on Sunday came to a similar conclusion. It said the reason for the "poor performance" of the Russian armed forces was due to "endemic corruption and poor logistics".
The ministry said the average level of personal equipment that Russia provides to its mobilized reservists is "almost certainly lower than the already poor supply of previously deployed troops."
Sources: The Guardian, VK-Post, Twitter, ntv.de, UK MoD, Politico, with footage from DPA