When her recently mobilized brother Vladimir called from the frontline last week, Olesya Shishkanova recorded the phone call – and with it, a litany of complaints.
“They gave us absolutely no equipment. The army has nothing, we had to buy all our equipment ourselves,” complained Vladimir, 23, who was drafted as part of Vladimir Putin’s mobilization earlier this month.
“I even had to paint my gun to cover the rust. It’s a nightmare… Soon they will make us buy our own grenades,” he added in the call that Shishkanova recorded and uploaded to his page on Russian social media site VK.
Vladimir’s story is far from unique. Across the country, newly mobilized men are buying everything from thermal underwear to body armor as mounting evidence emerges that the undersupplied Russian military was unable to supply them even the basics when they arrive at the front.
On Telegram, dozens of chat channels have sprung up in which the wives and sisters of drafted men share advice on where best to buy bulletproof vests and clothes for their loved ones before they leave to fight in the war. Putin’s war in Ukraine.
“From morning till night, I scour the Internet for great deals for our boys,” said Anastasia, a member of the group Help for Soldiers, based in Russia’s Sverdlovsk region near the Ural Mountains.
Anastasia said the local recruiting office in Sverdlovsk “strongly advised” newly mobilized soldiers to bring their own equipment, despite statements from the Defense Ministry that all mobilized soldiers would be dressed and equipped.
For some Russians, basic equipment shortages are fueling growing awareness that their army, hailed before the invasion as a world-class fighting force, has proven painfully underprepared for war.
“It’s bad enough that our men are being taken from us,” said Anastasia, a teacher from Bryansk, a Russian town less than 100 miles from the border with Ukraine.
“We had to spend our monthly salary on my husband’s equipment so that he at least had a chance to come back. Frankly, it’s completely embarrassing. It’s a mess,” she said.
The rush for goods has led to shortages and steep price hikes at outdoor clothing stores and online marketplaces selling military gear.
According to a report by trade newspaper Kommersant, body armor prices have risen by 500% and they now sell for up to 50,000 rubles (£710). Similar price increases were seen for helmets and basic camping gear.
“Our stock is empty. The sleeping bags sold out two days after the mobilization was announced,” said Aleksei, owner of a hiking and outdoor store in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city.
“We only have a few winter boots lying around and two tents. This had never happened to us before. »
What little equipment the army provides to newly mobilized soldiers seems outdated or downright inadequate.
In a video circulating on social networks, a Russian soldier mobilized Complains that he received a bulletproof vest designed for Airsoft games without real resistance to bullets. Similarly, Vladimir told his sister when calling from the front line that his unit had received Airsoft scopes.
Even before Putin’s mobilization push, the military shortcomings of Russia’s military – on paper the second largest in the world, with a budget of around £58billion a year – were painfully exposed as Moscow did not failed to achieve its goal of quickly taking control of Kyiv.
After Russia’s 2008 military campaign in Georgia, the country’s Defense Ministry, under Putin’s ally Sergei Shoigu, sought to reorganize the military, with the aim of transforming it into a sophisticated and modern while guaranteeing the eradication of corruption.
But since Russian tanks entered Ukraine on February 24, its military equipment has systematically faltered to a degree that surprised most Western analysts.
In an intelligence briefing on Sunday, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said “endemic corruption and poor logistics” remained a cause of Russia’s “poor performance” in Ukraine. The ministry said the average amount of personal equipment Russia provided to its mobilized reservists was “almost certainly below the already mediocre supply of previously deployed troops”.
“I am not at all surprised to see what a mess the army is in,” said Gleb Irisov, a former air force lieutenant who left the Russian army in 2020 and now lives in the States. -United.
“The military has always been deeply corrupt and these issues have never been properly addressed. They didn’t spend money on staff as our elders got rich,” he added.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his investigative team have released a number of exposes linking senior defense officials to expensive properties and hidden bank accounts, including a 2015 investigation into a £16million allegedly held by Shoigu. Other data indicates that embezzlement takes place in all ranks of the army.
A recent BBC News Russian investigation showed that over the past eight years, military courts have handed down more than 550 convictions for theft of clothing from army stores. In total, during the same period, court data revealed that more than 12,000 corruption cases were opened regarding the theft of military equipment and equipment, with some cases occurring even after the invasion of Israel. Ukraine by Russia.
The scale of Putin’s mass mobilization has now exacerbated some of the already existing problems, said Pavel Luzin, an independent Russian military expert.
“Russia was simply not prepared for a mobilization of this magnitude. It was bound to have logistical problems.
Luzin explained that over the past two decades the Kremlin has sought to overhaul its military, moving from a conscription-based army to one that relies on professional forces.
“When the mobilization was announced, there was no mechanism in place to implement it,” Luzin said.
The glaring problems with equipment and logistics have now become too big a problem for the authorities to ignore.
On Wednesday, Valentina Matviyenko, a senior politician and member of Putin’s security council, ordered the country’s anti-monopoly agencies to regulate market prices for military equipment.
“Prices of basic necessities for mobilized recruits have skyrocketed. It is not clear why, on what basis,” Matviyenko said.
Hours after Matviyenko’s statement, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin called on companies to “rapidly increase production of equipment and technology” needed for what Moscow calls its “special military operation.”