Dozens of videos have surfaced in recent weeks of Russian conscripts living in squalid conditions, being issued with old equipment and being encouraged to buy their own body armor and medical supplies.
- For example, the relatives of one young man from the industrial city of Chelyabinsk who was called up spent 40,000 rubles ($641) to buy thermal underwear, balaclavas, a push-button telephone and other bits of kit. And, in Novosibirsk, a conscript and his girlfriend spent 130,000 rubles ($2,085) on equipment. In several cases, conscripts were asked to buy their own body armor. As demand soars, prices of military equipment and medication have increased up to 40%.
- From recruitment offices, new recruits go to training centers. These are often overcrowded to the point that there are not enough beds to go round. Sometimes, they are not fed for several days and are billeted in buildings with no heating or sanitation. In one notorious case, rusty machine guns were handed out for a training exercise in the Far East (Russian propagandists responded with calls to find the culprits and punish “saboteurs”).
- A few days ago, footage appeared on social media of conscripts complaining about the conditions they were kept in before their deployment to Ukraine. One clip shows men in military uniforms standing in front of a passenger train. “We spent a week in appalling conditions. Like animals. No material assistance, no cash allowance. Nothing!” one man shouts. It is unclear whether this footage is real or fake: the video shows a man wearing a uniform with a chevron from mercenary outfit Wagner Group. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of Wagner, has repeatedly criticized the Defense Ministry in recent weeks as Russia’s troops suffer defeats in Eastern Ukraine.
- Despite reports of mobilized men buying their own equipment, the Defense Ministry insists that all the essentials will be provided and has no plans to reimburse men who have spent money on uniforms, medicines and other equipment.
Why the world should care
The problems plaguing Russia’s mobilization are even more eye opening given the country’s defense budget. Over the last eight years, defense spending has ranged from 14% to 23% of total expenditure. On average, that’s twice what’s spent on healthcare and education combined. In absolute terms, defense spending has now ballooned to $18 billion.