‘We could all be slaughtered’

Conversations between Russian soldiers and their loved ones reveal the realities of war for Kremlin troops. The Ukrainian army managed to intercept thousands of such conversations and forwarded some fragments to the British newspaper The Guardian.

Igor Bulke

Ukrainian experts have already been able to eavesdrop on thousands of conversations between the Russian soldiers and the home front. They studied the conversations, looked for information, and then made it public.

The conversations were forwarded by the Ukrainian army to The Guardian to paint a picture of the attitude of the Russian armed forces. “The magnitude of the talks that have taken place gives a very clear picture of the weaknesses of the Russian army,” said a former Kremlin defense official in the British newspaper, who wished to remain anonymous.

‘We drink water from puddles’

“No one gives us anything to eat, mom,” complains Andrey, a Russian soldier who was at the front in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lyman on November 8. He decided to ignore his superiors’ orders and call his mother from an unapproved phone. “Our stock is shit, to be honest. We collect water from puddles, strain it and drink it.” He also says that the promised ammunition to turn the battle was nowhere to be found. “Where are the missiles that Putin bragged about?” he wonders.

The soldier assures his mother that everything would be fine. “I always prayed mom, every morning,” he says. The Guardian later contacted the mother, who said that Andrey was still not with her. Then she burst into tears and put the phone down.

“Security has always been a mess, both in the military and among defense officials,” said the anonymous defense source. Especially in the early period of the war, the lack of security surrounding Russian communications was so great that even amateurs could pick up conversations about strategy between military commanders, thanks to the military’s use of open radio frequencies.

“In 2013, for example, they tried to get all Defense Department personnel to replace our iPhones with Russian-made smartphones. But everyone just kept using their iPhone as a second phone because it was much better. In the end, the ministry gave up and stopped caring. If the top doesn’t take security very seriously, how can you expect discipline in the military?”

‘Reinforcements? No. Communication? No.’

The British newspaper also obtained a conversation between a father and colleagues of his fallen son Andrei, on November 6. “Reinforcements? No. Communication? No,” a soldier responded to the grieving parent’s questions. “They told us not to withdraw. Otherwise we could be shot.”

According to cyber expert Dmitry Alperovich, security has been tightened to some extent, but many soldiers still take mobile phones to the front to talk to their families. “They are either intercepted when they go through a Ukrainian telecommunications provider, or by air. That does not pose much of a problem for the Ukrainian security services.”

‘We could all be slaughtered’

In a third conversation on October 26, a soldier in the Donetsk region tells his wife how he and three others fled “the bloodshed” and how he considered surrendering. “I’m in a sleeping bag, all wet and coughing,” he said. “We could all be butchered.”

“Even now, we see soldiers continue to use social media and tell their wives and mothers about the war, sometimes exposing their location,” the anonymous defense source said. “There is simply no discipline and it will only get worse now that they have mobilized 300,000 people who will hardly be trained. Mobilized soldiers will be terrified of being in a war zone, and of course they will try to call home.”

Because the Ukrainian army has been trained by NATO for years, it is according to The Guardian not equally susceptible to such large-scale interception of conversations.

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