October 1, 2015 –
Translated for Fort Russ by J. Arnoldski
“What’s happening with the militia of Donbass?”
Regarding the front lines and the dynamics of hostilities, the situation has essentially remained the same for the past month. There are low-intensity fights at the most remote sectors of the front where there are no European observers, staff officers, or Russian “curators” (most are at Bakhmutka and closer to Mariupol). Where there are observers and “curators,” weapons are not used even in response to the enemy’s provocations. There are strict instructions for commanders (with threats up to imprisonment) to exclude firing from our side. This has led to the most absurd situations – when one fighter in the LPR fired his gun at a block post in response to enemy shelling, the prosecutor questioned him: “On what grounds did you shoot at Ukrainian servicemen?” The guy was in shock: “We have a war.” They responded to him: “What war, we’ve had peace for a while, and apparently your commanders didn’t inform you.”
In the majority of sectors, heavy equipment has been taken away, and in some places they removed guns less than 100 mm. In some places, commanders and fighters are cunning and manipulating equipment (I won’t specify) in order to bypass orders and be able to defend themselves in case of an unexpected breakthrough by the enemy. As for “military trade,” the situation here is twofold. There are sectors where all equipment and vacationers have been taken away, and some places where, on the contrary, they’ve been strengthened. That is, they’ve left only a safety net in areas where complications are expected in the case of enemy attacks.
Here it’s possible to name one of the reasons why assessments of the situation by militiamen and observers sometimes differ so greatly. At some parts of the front, all equipment is removed, there’s no “northern wind”, supplies are bad, and command rampages, not allowing even a single shot at the side of the enemy (“we have peace” – this is especially negatively perceived when you’re periodically shelled). Here there are all the reasons for discontent and negative sentiment, including among the military and political leadership. At some parts of the front, supplies are better and there’s “military trade,” and even equipment has remained on the front line in some places. Here, of course, fighters are more optimistic and they don’t believe that they’re being “ditched.”
If we’re speaking about a few advantages of the “ceasefire,” then there’s the restoration of equipment (almost everything has already been restored) and constant exercises which enhance the military skills of soldiers. This suggests that command is not thinking about “ditching.” There’s considerable expenditure of fuel and lubricants (delivered from Russia) and the very fact that the militia as a minimum can be kept ready to repel enemy attacks. The enemy is also not sitting idly: our intelligent reports their intense exercises and maneuvers that have nothing to do with “peaceful resolution of the conflict. All heavy weapons and troops that were deployed in the period of heavy shelling in mid-August remain in place, and rotations are only being carried out among servicemen standing in fields. Moreover, in certain areas (in the South of DPR) in the past couple of weeks, the enemy has announced “neutral zones,” which have turned out to be more advantageous positions.
There are more minuses to the “ceasefire.” Exercises are of course good and correct, but there are much fewer motivated and ideological fighters compared to the beginning of last year (not to mention the “Strelkov” times). In terms of “military construction” the worst aspects of the Russian military bureaucracy are manifested. This is mainly due to the fact that “vacationers,” who are not the best in the business, are overseeing the process. Many of them are sent here just to “link.” It’s not the best when all valuable specialists are needed on the “main land.” Naturally, these people, despite their high ranks and theoretical knowledge, lose to any militiaman having more than a year’s experience of real combat operations.
Without exception, all militia commanders complain about horrible paperwork and endless resignations over any small reason. Striving for military unification and regulation is reaching the point of absurdity. For example, the leadership demands that fighters wear the same uniforms, although there are no uniforms. They demand even that beards be shaved, and not long ago a serious conflict broke out in one division over this. Eighty percent of them were “bearded” and “old guys” – distinguished fighters who passed through more than a year. They’re being removed from their positions and leaving – “you’ll fight here yourselves” – for their response to the requirement to shave beards. After that, the leadership backed off from them. Many militiamen, especially from among the “old guys,” for these reasons are trying not to appear at headquarters, even avoiding rotations at front positions, preferring the “free” sitting in a field, where HQ guys and “high officialdom” don’t look.
Regarding the “Novorossiya” chevrons, there were arguments over this, and I can confirm that there were cases of coercion. They say it’s not possible to wear them, as it’s a “taunting” chevron, and here we have DPR, not Novorossiya. Where militiamen were less decisive in confronting the leadership, chevrons were removed, and in some places, it didn’t happen, as in the case of the “bearded.” One commander told how he rather rudely “kicked” the authorities: “I stood up and fought for Novorossiya, I don’t know what DPR is.” These episodes prove that the militia is not an uncomplaining herd which submits to any demands. If it comes to “ditching,” then it is unlikely that they will able to convince thousands of armed men who shed blood for their land.
One more minus of the “ceasefire” is that a lot of Ukrainians from the bureaucracy, law enforcement, and prosecutor are returning to the territory of DPR and LPR. It’s not that they just returned to their homes, but they took their prewar offices and posts. While they generally act well, in some cases they are already starting to “swing around their rights,” saying that “this is Ukraine here,” and so on. As an example, there is that story from the LPR: “On what grounds did you shoot at the Ukrainian side?” Yet another worrisome sign is that criminals are returning and starting to return to their positions which they lost over the course of the war. This is a complaint in, for example, Donetsk, Enakievo, and Alchevsk (order suffered greatly here after the murder of Mozgovoy). In the DPR, bureaucrats from the “Akhmetovs” are also continuing to return to regional offices, and this greatly annoys citizens who see a “creeping Ukrainization” of the region.
On the subject of supplies to the militias, the situation is better since last fall, but there are two big problems. The first is that supplies mainly concern “common” elements such as uniforms and footwear. The equipment and those funds (which we buy on a monthly basis) which are necessary for conducting warfare are not centrally supplied, not to mentions such things as optics or drones. And as before, communication is bad everywhere – with experienced personnel and with communications themselves. The second is the divergence between “paper data” and real life. For example, last fall 300 jackets were set aside for a battalion, which supposedly should serve for three years, or 300 sets of uniform for a year. Maybe in peace time this is a norm for military officers or guards, but here the situation is incomparable – after a year of combat operations of varying intensity (this includes severe steppe conditions), uniforms wear out very quickly, a number of fighters are killed, and many deserted (they left along with the issued uniform), and new fighters come. But when the battalion commander asks HQ for uniforms, there they see on paper and reply that the battalion is fully equipped.
The situation with wages has improved, but again there are complications. Salaries (on average 15 thousand) are mainly spent on things that are in shortage of supply (uniforms, ammunition), and feeding a family with this money is practically impossible. In many units, there was and is not a salary. The biggest challenge for some units (such as “Prizrak” for example) is that a part of the fighters, for different reasons, might not be in the state corps. Let’s say that, officially, there are 200 fighters in a unit, but in reality there are 400. As a result, 200 fighters receive half a salary and give half to the 200 irregulars. This is the most frequent problem with salaries and supplies. There are plenty of other moments, including elementary theft at different levels. Therefore, I would receive cheerful talks about establishing a centralized supply critically, because I’m not looking at HQ papers, but at concrete people in trenches.
Regarding the general sentiment of the militia, people are, of course, very tired of the lack of information and vague prospects for the future. To us, Russian volunteers, it’s easier in this respect, and we have “Russian rearing,” no place to go, and not many people want to leave their land for the unknown. Moreover, the majority of militia have homes and families under occupation and the impossibility of going forward demoralizes fighters. If the republics were to conclude a “ceasefire” in the borders of the former Donetsk and Lugansk regions, and if constant shelling were excluded, the situation would be more bearable in terms of freezing the conflict. But in current circumstances, the existence of the population and the militias of the republics is unbearable. The physical hardships are not so unbearable, but the psychological condition of many people is because of the unpredictability of the situation of “neither war nor peace.”
Soon I will write separately on other issues, in particular on our work with the supplies and on the status of the first military hospital, which is continuing to struggle for existence. Regarding the situation around the GRU of the DPR, practically nothing has changed, and it’s even worsened since I last wrote about it. The majority of people from organized crime groupings on the base of this division are still at large and are continuing their business, including “major” Filippova. In the GRU, many new, unknown people have been taken in, receiving good material guarantees and loyalties to the leadership. A few days ago, a 19-year old Valya Kornienko went missing from the humanitarian fund “Dobrorussiya,” and much data indicates that this is a kidnapping which involved people from the GRU. We are now using every opportunity to clarify the situation and find Valya.
In conclusion, to answer the question which are often asked by outraged citizens from both camps – the eternal optimists and the eternal pessimists. As I write something better, they say “how is that, you wrote that everything is very bad.” Or, conversely, I’ll write about the negative, and others are indignant – “how, you said that everything is going well.” I never wrote that “everything is bad” or that “everything is good.” The fact of the matter is that it is impossible characterize that which is happening in Novorossiya unambiguously and strictly as positive or negative. The readers of El Murid, for example, are convinced that everything happening in Donbass is hopelessly bad and is leading only to “ditching,” and the readers of Chalenko clap their hands with full confidence in the development of the LPR and DPR and that soon we’ll be on the way to Kiev. In reality, everything is much more complicated. I visit different places and see sometimes mutually exclusive things – some plunge into pessimism, and others bring joy and give hope. Therefore talking now about the fate of Novorossiya is premature and meaningless. The situation is stuck, but all circumstances suggest that at any moment, it could swing either in our favor or in the enemy’s.
However, besides the situation on the front, there is still the situation inside the republics, which is in crisis and sometimes features inappropriate things. They cannot be silenced, and we must deal with them, or lose the trust of Russian society, which continues to support the militia and population of Donbass.