‘They allowed us to be massacred’: calls from Russian forces intercepted | Russia
EITHERn the front lines, near the town of Lyman, in eastern Ukraine, on November 8 at 3:10 p.m., a Russian serviceman named Andrey decided to ignore the orders of his superiors and call his mother using an unauthorized mobile phone.
“No one gives us anything to eat, mom,” he complained. “Our supply sucks, to be honest. We get water from the puddles, then we strain it and drink it.”
Russian forces had been on the defensive in Donetsk Oblast for weeks. Lyman, taken by the Russians in May, was liberated by Ukrainian forces in October.
Two days before Andrey made his wake-up call home, Russian forces had “finally” started firing phosphorus bombs at Ukrainian positions, he told his mother, but promises of ammunition that could turn the battle around they had come to nothing.
“Where are the missiles Putin bragged about?” she asked. “There is a high-rise building right in front of us. Our soldiers can’t hit him. We need a Caliber cruise missile and that’s it.”
Andrey assured his mother, who lives in Kostroma, a city 500 kilometers northeast of Moscow, that he would be fine. “I always pray, mom,” he said. “Every morning.”
It is not known if those prayers were fulfilled. When approached by The Guardian, her mother said that her son was not with her, before breaking down in tears and hanging up the phone.
The content of the conversation between the soldier and the mother, which lasted five minutes and 26 seconds, can be heard and read today because it was intercepted by the Ukrainian military and reported to this newspaper.
Others shared with The Guardian include a conversation on November 6 between a father and colleagues of his son, Andrei, who died serving in the 35th Motor Rifle Brigade, 5th Company.
“Reinforcements: no; communication: no,” a soldier responded to questions from the grieving father about the condition of the men who had survived a Ukrainian attack. “They said we were not allowed to withdraw. Otherwise, they can shoot us.”
In a third interception on October 26, a soldier in the Donetsk region tells his wife how he had fled with three others from the bloodshed and was thinking of surrendering. “I’m in a sleeping bag, all wet, coughing, generally screwed up,” she said. “We were all allowed to be slaughtered.” The soldier’s wife declined to comment when approached by this newspaper.
These are just three of thousands of calls between soldiers in trenches or forward positions that Ukrainian experts have eavesdropped on, pored over for bits of intelligence and then, where there is propaganda value, made public.
In the early period of the war, the lack of security around Russian communications was such that strategic conversations between military commanders were picked up, even by amateurs, thanks to the military’s use of open radio frequencies.
that according Dmitri Alperovicha cyber expert who runs the Silverado policy accelerator, is increasingly rare.
A series of wiretaps-based newspaper articles chronicling human rights abuses in Bucha, the city north of Kyiv where civilians were allegedly shot at, and declining morale within the armed forces has resulted in Russian forces sharpen their performance, to a certain extent, as Andrei Call has highlighted.
“There are still a lot of soldiers bringing cell phones to the front lines who want to talk to their families and they are being intercepted as they go through a Ukrainian telecommunications provider or are intercepted over the air,” Alperovitch said. “That does not present too much difficulty for the Ukrainian security services.”
By themselves, a handful of intercepted calls offer limited value in painting a picture of the attitudes of Russian fighting forces.
However, the sheer number of calls made by soldiers provides a very clear guide to the Russian military’s weaknesses, according to a former Kremlin defense official who asked to remain anonymous.
“Security has always been a disaster, both in the military and among defense officers,” the source said. “For example, in 2013 they tried to get all MoD staff to replace our iPhones with Russian-made Yoto smartphones.
“But everyone kept using the iPhone as a second phone because it was so much better. We would just keep the iPhone in the glove compartment of the car for when we got back from work. In the end, the ministry gave up and stopped caring. If the higher ups don’t take security very seriously, how can you expect any discipline in the regular army?
By the end of September, Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of 300,000 reservists and “those with prior military experience.”
The former Russian official said this would only worsen the security situation. “Soldiers get a quick crash course in how not to give out sensitive information, but it’s mostly for show,” the official said. “Commanders claim to teach [the course] and the soldiers pretend to listen.
“Even now, we see soldiers continue to use social media and tell their wives and mothers about the war, sometimes exposing their location.
“There is just no discipline and it will only get worse now that they have mobilized 300,000 people who will barely be trained. Deployed soldiers will be terrified of being in a war zone and will naturally try to call home.”
The Ukrainian military, which for years has benefited from NATO-led training, has not been prone to communications interception on such a large scale.
The former Kremlin official said Putin was learning the hard way that his military was in dire need of modernization and that the top-down, Soviet-style model was not fit for purpose.
“Army doctrine is based on punishment, so soldiers are penalized if they get it wrong, but no one is trying to stop them from giving information in the first place,” the source said. “Mistakes will happen until they change the whole philosophy.”