Russian soldiers were frustrated by unsuitable military equipment as early as March.
Recordings obtained by The New York Times reveal phone calls made by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
One man told his girlfriend how his comrades stole NATO armor off dead Ukrainian soldiers.
Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine were already lamenting their military's outdated equipment and failing resolve just weeks after the conflict began, according to a new investigation from The New York Times.
The outlet published Wednesday a sprawling collection of several unauthorized phone calls made by Russian soldiers throughout the month of March to family members and loved ones back home. The Ukrainian government intercepted the unsanctioned communications, which were made from a series of shared cell phones among multiple military units close to the front lines near Bucha.
The Times later obtained, translated, and published snippets of the recordings.
The calls paint a harrowing picture of diminishing morale among the men — many of whom say their superiors lied about the nature of the war and their mission. The March recordings offer early insight into aspects of Russia's strategy and implementation that have contributed to mounting military losses and a recent escalation on the home front.
Among the soldiers' primary grievances was a lack of suitable equipment. One man, identified by his first name of Sergey, described in a call to his girlfriend how some of his comrades attempted to address the issue.
"Some guys took armor off of Ukrainians' corpses and took it for themselves," he said. "Their NATO armor is better than ours."
Another soldier named Roman in a separate conversation responded to his friend's question about abandoned equipment with similar sentiment.
"Everything here is ancient," the soldier said. "It's not modern like they show on Zvezda [state TV]."
The men also bemoaned increasing losses among their regiments, describing mass burials and decimated units.
"There were 400 paratroopers. And only 38 of them survived," a soldier named Sergey told his mother. "Because our commanders sent soldiers to the slaughter."
Russia has struggled with both manpower and equipment issues in Ukraine. Russian forces are estimated to have suffered 80,000 casualties since the war began, on top of losing thousands of armored vehicles. The Russian military has resorted to pulling obsolete equipment out of storage, including Soviet-era equipment such as T-62 tanks.
Prior to the Ukraine war, the Russian military was widely regarded as one of the most powerful in the world. But the conflict has dramatically altered perceptions of Russia's military capabilities.
Meanwhile, Western countries have supplied Ukrainian forces with billions in military aid, including equipment that has helped hold off and even push back the Russian invaders.
The US alone has given over $16.2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russian forces invaded in late February, supplying Ukrainian forces with vital equipment such as High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), which can strike targets up to 50 miles away.
A new $1.1 billion US security assistance package announced on Wednesday will include 18 additional HIMARS, the Pentagon said, more than doubling the number of such weapons already provided to Ukraine by Washington.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last week announced a partial military mobilization, calling up tens of thousands of reservists to help address Russia's personnel problems in Ukraine. Military experts and Russia watchers have expressed skepticism that it will make a difference in the war, in part due to Russia's lack of proper military infrastructure.
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