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 of the recordings:
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.
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.
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:
Get daily emails in your inbox
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.