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Russian Grunts Will Be Relieved to Know That Moscovites Hardly Ever Think About the War
They may be in the SNAFU, but at least they're also forgotten
Imagine this. Maybe you’re a Donetsk taxi driver. Middle-aged. 45-years old. On a good day you can still handle your share of vodka but if you’re honest with yourself you’ve got times when that arthritis in your right knee tingles for days, and your hairline has been receding faster than the Amazonian rainforest. Let’s say that in February you were mobilized for the Donetsk People’s Militia. Maybe you got a notice in your mail and responded, or maybe you were actually one of those sods who went for a loaf of bread and was nabbed by the round-ups.
You were put into one of the newly-formed brigades with a designation number above 100 (103rd, 109th…). That means that many others in your units are old farts like yourself. You’re good electricians, bakers and builders, but the last time you did any soldiering was in 1996 when you were drafted for your national service to the Ukrainian army, but even then the military was so underfunded that you didn’t fire more than 70 practice shots the whole year you were there. You were given zero refreshment training by Donetsk forces, hell, none of you weren’t even given a medical so that some of the guys in your platoon — sick, feeble or invalids as they are — have even less business being on the front than yourself, and are total liabilities.
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Being in a newly-formed brigade also means many of your officers are reservists who didn’t see action in 2014 and don’t know what to do in a war any more than yourself. It also means that your gear is crap. For the first few months of the war a part of your unit was actually given Mosin-Nagants of WW2 vintage. You tried purchasing some better equipment (armor plates, optics) for yourself but the prices are pretty high right now, and when donations from Russian activists arrived the Rostov border FSB actually blocked the shipments demanding payoffs.
Upon mobilization you were told you would serve in uniform for 3 months and only in the borders of Donetsk, and mostly in the rear. Instead it has been 7 months already, you are on the first line, and manpower shortage is such that you have been transferred to Kherson where the need is greatest, all the while the Ukrainians are still just 15 km from your native Donetsk which they still sometimes shell.
Or maybe you’re a Russian career soldier from Sverdlovsk. In January you were told to kiss your wife goodbye because you’re leaving for a snap exercise and will be back in a few weeks. It’s now September, you haven’t been home since, and the “snap exercise” turned out to be a major land war in Europe with no end in sight.
A major war — which you did sign up to fight if ordered, but under the presumption that a major war would be fought with the whole weight of the nation behind you. Under the presumption that the army would fight a major war the way it was configured to fight a major war — with a mix of officers, professionals, conscripts and a modest number of the newly-mobilized who jointly fill up brigade positions.
You signed up to if necessary spearhead a national effort, where you take on the biggest portion of the responsibility and of the burden, but where the burden is nonetheless shared across the society. Instead, the Kremlin having started a major war is prosecuting it in a way that the entire weight of it falls on just 250,000 officers and contract soldiers in the various land combat arms.
Aside from leaving the enlistees to soak up the entirety of Russia’s losses, leaving conscripts behind also means that the war was sabotaged from the start as the initial offensive lacked the manpower not to run out of steam as quickly as it did.
Even now the only reinforcements coming to share the burden of the HIMARS lottery is a thin trickle of private mercenaries and regular army “volunteers,” both of whom are earning double what you’re getting and both of whom only have to stay 3 months while you’re here for the duration (rotations out and back in notwithstanding). You have been defrauded you feel, but if you leave (as you theoretically can) your platoon buddies will be one more rifle short, and since your mortgage is underwritten by the military your wife and kid could be shortly finding themselves on the street.
You’re holding on with a mix of fatalism and dark humor, but if you’re in the infantry or tank you’ve almost certainly had friends killed, maybe one of them died in your arms. If you’re like millions of Russians you also have relatives in Ukraine so that you could literally be shooting across at your 2nd cousin from Cherkasy.
Or heck, maybe you’re an officer in the Russian motor infantry. A lieutenant or a captain, that not only has to live this clusterfuck, but also put a bow and tie on it and sell it to the rank and file.
Alright, got that? Well if you did, then also imagine that Kremlin’s number 1 priority has been shielding everyone else except you from having to sacrifice for the war in any way, shape, or form. And that it has been so successful at this that Moscovites have basically forgotten there even is a war on and that you exist:
Very little about day-to-day life seems to have changed in Moscow, where people have the financial resources to weather significant price increases, unlike much of the rest of the country. GUM, the luxury mall next to Red Square, is full of shoppers — though many Western stores like Prada, Gucci and Christian Dior are closed — and restaurants and theaters do thriving business. Moscow’s roads still teem with luxury cars like Lamborghinis and Porsches.
“A few stores closed because of sanctions, which is frustrating but not that bad,” said Yuliya, 18, a recent high-school graduate who was hanging out on a bench in Gorky Park, where Muscovites sunbathe, dance and rollerblade. She and her friends said they don’t really think about the fighting in Ukraine that often.
That detachment is exactly what President Vladimir V. Putin is counting on as he executes a domestic strategy of shielding Russians from the hardships of war — no draft, no mass funerals, no feelings of loss or conflict. Much of Russia’s effort on the battlefield has not gone as Mr. Putin had planned, but at home, he has mostly succeeded in making Russian life feel as normal as possible.
Most museums and theaters are open, as long as their leadership didn’t criticize the Kremlin, and on summer evenings, party boats with effusive revelers ply the nearby Moskva River and people picnic in the grass. The fall seasons in opera and ballet have just begun…
Wonderful. When you’re risking life and limb in an ill-conceived clusterfuck it’s good to know that at least you are also forgotten! Swindled into carrying the entire burden of a major land war in Europe on your backs while the gov’t busies itself with reassuring the all-important luxury-mall shopping set that the costs of this super-critical, “existential” war won’t touch them.
But hey, maybe while doing this the leadership is at least devoting every waking hour of energy to the war, and all of the assets available to the military?
While you are maybe holding up your dying buddy in your arms, Putin and Shoigu are at…war games in Asia. Smiling.
Not at the Ukrainian front interviewing you and the other grunts how much fresh hipster Moscow meat do you need to help you finish the job. No. They are in Asia overseeing wargames using scarce military resources to project a facade of normalcy for the normies. A facade to lull the homefront into sleep and prevent it from knowing how actually taxing the war is on the land forces and the men fighting it.
I am not in the business of saying what Moscow ought to do. I am not even in the business of saying what is right and what is wrong. I am merely in the business of seeing if policies make sense in the terms they are being sold to the public, or if else our intelligence is being insulted.
I am not necessarily arguing that Moscovites be conscripted en masse for Kherson trenches. I am on record as being against this fratricidal Slav-on-Slav war on humanitarian grounds even when I thought Moscow would win quickly and reunite the Rurikid lands, so why should I be? BUT, what bothers our primate brains is when we detect hypocrisy. When there are glaring contradictions between competing official talking points and between talking points and policies.
The precise publicly-stated justification for the “Special Operation” is all over the place. At times it is a lofty crusade to save Donbass from nothing less than genocide, at other times it is nothing short of an existential war for the very survival or Russia against the West.
But one thing that is constant is that this is among the most justified, the most necessary, and the most righteous wars of any war ever.
Yet at the same time the Kremlin has been consumed with reassuring the public that they won’t have to sacrifice for this highly moral and necessary war. Putin has threatened any officers who take conscripts to Ukraine while Shoigu has spoken of 16,000 Syrians willing to volunteer for the fight if the need arises so that Moscow socialites don’t have to.
This wouldn’t be a big deal if the Russian war was going swimmingly without such a sacrifice but it’s glaringly obvious that that isn’t the case. Seven months into the war Russia still only controls 60% of Donetsk oblast (she started with 30%). Goalposts can be moved and narratives can be spun but the truth is that seven months ago nobody, absolutely nobody, predicted this would be the case.
Moreover, the Russian pace of advance has been steadily dropping throughout the war and in the past two months has reached a practical standstill, where now taking half of a village every two weeks has become a triumph worth celebrating as another Battle of Kursk.
The Russian war machine in Ukraine would benefit from an infusion of mass — not just to relieve Donbass people and professional Russian soldiers from a disproportionate and unfair burden that is stretching them to the breaking point — but also just to get the Russian war going again. This is mass that can only come by involving people who have so far not been involved in the war, meaning Russian citizens outside of professional soldiers. Yet that is precisely the possibility that Putin has positioned himself as militantly against.
Herein lies the contradiction. If this is such a necessary, just, and externally-imposed war then it is also extremely important that Russia wins this war. And this might be the case, but it is clear that Kremlin actually does not believe this. If this is such an important, morally upright and existential war, then the use of conscript soldiers and other deep sacrifices by the homefront have to be on the table.
Rather than sticking to goals come-hell-or-high-water and having the needs of the goals dictate the level of resources thrown into the war, the Kremlin is doing the opposite. It is putting up huge protective walls before what can not be sacrificed for the war and strictly rationing what is fed into it then seeing what is the most it can get out of it for that level of investment.
This betrays that for Kremlin this is not an existential and externally-imposed war. Perhaps this is such a war for Russia. I will not argue with you on that. But it is clear that in Kremlin’s understanding despite the rhetoric for public consumption this is not so. For Kremlin this is a war where the goals are not a matter of life-and-death. Attaining large goals would be better, but attaining much diminished might be fine as well. That is not a very dramatic, existential understanding of your struggle.
Meanwhile the Russian contract soldier in the trench has to wonder if this war is such a great idea, why isn’t it a great idea for everyone to give something for it? If this war calls for sacrifice and is worth sacrifice why is it only worth his own sacrifice but nobody else’s?
Dmitry Medvedev is breathing fire from his Telegram perch, sounding like a cross between Alexander Dugin and Vassiliy Grossman. But where is his 27-year old son and where are Putin’s daughters? Russia’s manpower needs are great enough that massive payouts are offered to volunteers willing to rotate through Ukraine for as little time as 3 months. Men up to the age of 50 are sought. Recruitment is even open to foreigners from post-Soviet states.
This reveals a need. A great need. What also reveals a great need is that regions have been tasked with recruiting and financing a volunteer battalion (for the 3rd Corps) each. So as before the regions could compete for Kremlin’s favor by finding ways to boost their vaccination rates as high as possible they can now compete by forming the largest battalion.
But where in this are the children of the elites? The motherland calls. 3000 Donetsk, 2000 Lugansk, and 10000 Russian men have already made the ultimate sacrifice for Russkiy Mir. Dmitry Medvedev seems to believe this is a good, just and necessary war. Good enough for his son to go and play the HIMARS lottery?
Or is that an honor fit only for rednecks from Sverdlovsk?
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