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All Unquiet On The Ukrainian Front

Above, CCTV footage of Russian soldiers looting in Ukraine. The NYT today has an amazing story about phone calls intercepted from invading Russian troops by Ukrainian authorities. Normally I would have not taken this too seriously, considering that it might be war propaganda. But the Times says it spent a long time confirming the authenticity […]
Screen Shot 2022-09-29 at 11.13.54 AM

Above, CCTV footage of Russian soldiers looting in Ukraine.

The NYT today has an amazing story about phone calls intercepted from invading Russian troops by Ukrainian authorities. Normally I would have not taken this too seriously, considering that it might be war propaganda. But the Times says it spent a long time confirming the authenticity of the recordings:

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Reporters verified the authenticity of these calls by cross-referencing the Russian phone numbers with messaging apps and social media profiles to identify soldiers and family members. 

The import of the messages helps explain why so many Russians are fleeing conscription. Surely these messages from the front have filtered back home, telegraphing to men who may be sent to the front what they will face. True, you have to trust the Times here, and I understand why people would be reluctant to do that. But these claims seem plausible given what we are seeing at the Russian borders, with masses fleeing conscription, and with the shocking battlefield losses. Here are excerpts:

The calls, made by dozens of fighters from airborne units and Russia’s National Guard, have not previously been made public and give an inside view of a military in disarray just weeks into the campaign. The soldiers describe a crisis in morale and a lack of equipment, and say they were lied to about the mission they were on — all conditions that have contributed to the recent setbacks for Russia’s campaign in the east of Ukraine.

The conversations range from the mundane to the brutal, and include blunt criticisms of Mr. Putin and military commanders, remarks that may be punishable under Russian law if they were publicly expressed at home. The Times is using only the first names of the soldiers, and is withholding the names of family members in order to protect their identities.

You can hear the recordings if you click on the story. More from the description:

Soldiers of the 331st Airborne Regiment report that the entire Second Battalion of 600 soldiers has been wiped out. A soldier named Andrey tells his father that more than half of his regiment is “gone.” They say that their regiment commander, Sergey Sukharev, has been killed in the fighting, an event confirmed by contemporaneous news reports.

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Back home in Russia, the phone calls reveal that the mounting deaths are beginning to reverberate in military towns, where tight-knit communities and families exchange news of casualties. Relatives describe rows of corpses and coffins arriving in their cities, as soldiers warn that even more bodies will soon return. One woman tells her husband that a military funeral was held every day that week. In shock, some families say they have begun to see psychologists.

And:

Throughout the stalled offensive — and before the Russian forces would ultimately retreat at the end of March — the phone calls reveal a crisis in morale. Impatience, fear and fatigue set in as soldiers describe a military in disarray. “Frankly speaking, nobody understands why we have to fight this war," Sergey tells his girlfriend.

Here's a quote from the audio you can hear on the story:

And:

Read and listen to the whole thing.

This is what Vladimir Putin has done to his country. War is so often a racket. How does Putin survive this? I hope and pray that somehow we can get a peace agreement before Putin crosses a red line. At some point, you have to wonder if the Russian military leadership will remove Putin and sue for peace. Who would rule Russia in that case? Poor Russia -- having come through so much since Communism's fall, only to be led into this fratricidal catastrophe by Putin. No good can come of this war, for anybody. As the anonymous soldier Sergey said, "This war wasn't needed."

Additionally, The Washington Post has smartphone clips they've verified as coming from Russia, of unrest following Putin's mobilization. Take a look -- they show antiwar resistance.

UPDATE: A reader with experience in analysis writes to say that these accounts are accurate, but to keep in mind that there are the same kinds of calls from Ukrainian soldiers back home after their defeats. The difference is that the West hypes up Russia-is-losing accounts, and keeps bad Ukrainian news out of the papers. Reader warns that things are "mixed" for Ukraine, despite recent victories, and that the truth of the matter is that we are seeing a World War I-style attrition conflict on both sides. The important thing to keep in mind, said the reader, is that we are only getting one side of the story. Reader said this doesn't mean we shouldn't back Ukraine, but it does mean that we should do so with eyes wide open.

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JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
The war has been a huge cluster event right from the start. And the sad fact is when the higher-ups screw up it's the ordinary people who pay the butcher's bill.
Keep Russia in your prayers.
schedule 2 months ago
Peter Pratt
Peter Pratt
Propaganda isn't necessarily lies. It can also be truth taken out of context or misrepresented. These calls are from 6 months ago. Who intercepted the phone calls? Most likely US intelligence. Who released the phone calls to the NYT? US intelligence. For what purpose were the phone calls released? Were the phone calls cherry picked? Why wait 6 months? What motives seem likely in releasing the phone calls?

Here is the truth of everything involved in this war: almost everything from all sides is propaganda and trust nothing, especially about what one side says the other is doing.
schedule 2 months ago
Michael Campbell
Michael Campbell
When Russia gets enough conscripts out there the war will tend to stalemate, barring a major failure of Russian military industry or major collapse in Western logistical support to Ukraine.

Ukraine is getting back what it can until Russia evens the manpower gap.
schedule 2 months ago
Michael Cole
Michael Cole
If you are interested in more of this kind of thing there is a YouTube channel “Insights from Ukraine and Russia” where they post audios and translations of intercepted phone calls and communications of the Russian soldiers. I was skeptical as to whether they were just made up propaganda, but a Russian friend of mine thinks many of them are genuine. My friend grew up in suburbs of Moscow and, in fact, has a degree in linguistics. It is very hard to fake regional accents well enough to deceive a native speaker. For example, I grew up in suburban Long Island. I cannot fake a Georgia accent well enough to fool an American and certainly not a southerner. Similarly it is very hard for a Muskovite to pronounce Russian EXACTLY like someone from Petersburg or Volgograd or Novisibirsk. There are plenty of Russian speaking Ukrainians, but my linguist friend doubts they could fake Moscow and Petersburg accents well enough to fool him.
schedule 2 months ago
rksyrus
rksyrus
The fastest way to end the war is for Ukraine to get real and surrender; every day they do not makes the ultimate peace harsher for that soon to be landlocked failed rump state. Col Macgregor calculates about 12,000 dead on the Russian side and at least 70,000 dead on the NATO proxy war side. Russia has mobilized, the war that was effectively over when the NATO allies tucked tail and hid in their 12,000 bunkers along with 1,000 km front is now really, totally, over.

Do what Professor Mearsheimer and Henry Kissinger suggest, seek terms, meet all Russian's very reasonable core security demands and save lives now. Also, while this conflict is managed by Putin, it has 70-80 percent support of Russians inside AND outside Russia; minus Putin the war continues and perhaps not at such a measured and restrained pace (just check out some quotes from Putin's understudy Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev).
schedule 2 months ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    Imagine in 1905 some Russian flak saying "The quickest way for this war to end is for Japan to surrender to our overwhelming might". At least in 1855, when Tsar Nikolai I had shuffled off this mortal coil his son Aleksandr II had the great good sense to end the meatgrinder in the Crimea by disavowing his father's attempt to glom onto Balkan lands and agree to the status quo ante.
    schedule 2 months ago
Zenos Alexandrovitch
Zenos Alexandrovitch
Dude, you can get the same thing from US Soldiers when they are out dealing with the horrors of war. It says very little about the overall war effort.
schedule 2 months ago