‘Russia will lose’ — S. Ossetian troops returned from Ukraine complain about faulty equipment
South Ossetian servicemen who refused to fight in Ukraine
Local contractors from the Russian military base in South Ossetia, who were sent to war in Ukraine, refused to fight and returned home at the end of March. Russian Mediazona published a detailed transcript of the conversation between the Ossetian military who returned from Ukraine and the President of South Ossetia. In it, servicemen complain about unbearable service conditions, faulty equipment and the incompetence of the Russian command.
According to Mediazona, despite the fact that it was forbidden to record the meeting with the president, the publication obtained a complete audio recording of the meeting. The participants of the meeting spoke in Ossetian, the translation, at the request of the publication, was performed by a native speaker.
The main questions that the military returned from Ukraine posed to President Anatoly Bibilov:
- The incomprehensible purpose of sending them to fight in Ukraine. “Each of us did not go there to defend our homeland, our homeland is here. Why were we sent there, so many people from the second battalion? Why? We feel that this is wrong. What if something happened here? A confrontation [with Georgia]? They wanted more people not to come back from there? What was all this for?
- Faulty military equipment. “On my BMP, manual launch, while you launch it manually, grenade launchers will knock you out. In the second battalion, 99% of the equipment does not work, we told them [senior in rank] about this. We warned: “Our machines don’t work, don’t send us there”. The guys from another company said that their guns were not firing. They were told: “Go anyways” … Out of ten tanks, three did not fire. “At the mortarmen, their mortars were not good, the legs are all crooked. From another brigade, they laughed at us: “Are you suicide bombers?” … All the equipment started up only with a push, we took it to Vladikavkaz in tow, and then people here say that we were afraid of something.
- Incompetence of command and chaos in management. “I have never seen such a defense: put up an infantry fighting vehicle and hide in basements. We had to dig in”. “They said on the radio that the sixth company was defeated … And then we met the sixth company in the city – they said no, there was no attack on them. We were told: “Walk one kilometer”. But it turned out that [it was necessary to walk] ten. There were no directions. The snipers were shooting there… We were deceived from the first day. The documents had one destination, but we arrived in a completely different place. The place where we were supposed to come is 800 kilometers from where we were brought.”
- Lack of medical care. “Our friend is in a hospital in Donetsk, we contacted him by phone. He says that on the first day he was bandaged, but the fragments are still inside him. He says that his hand is very swollen, and no one does anything, even the doctors do not come to see him. He has been there for five days, the doctors only ask him for money. His other eye was injured by shrapnel. And for two days no one told him to go to the hospital. And the doctor told him: “Where were you two days ago? You have lost your eye”.
- Lack of faith in victory. Bibilov asks the audience if they think Russia will lose the war. A voice is heard in the hall: “Yes, we believe that we will lose”. The crowd begins to talk loudly.
Full transcript of Bibilov's conversation with the military (in English):
“I ask one person to stand up and explain everything that happened”, Bibilov addresses the audience.
“During these 11 days, what happened [there] – I won’t wish it on the enemy”, one of the servicemen begins explaining. “All the equipment that we had, it was not good, I speak bluntly. When we got there, we were all put in a row – literally two kilometers from the combat zone. The support platoon and the medical company should be in the rear, and not two kilometers from the combat zone. The command staff was not there. And that night the mortars started firing.
According to him, the person who sent them there “did not understand what he was doing”.
“I didn’t go there for the money we are paid. Each of us did not go there to defend our homeland, our homeland is here. Why were we taken and sent there, so many people from the second battalion? Why? We feel this is wrong. What if something happened here? A confrontation [with Georgia]? Did they want more people not to come back? Why was all this done?”
Another soldier supports his colleague:
“There are no people here who would show themselves badly there. When we were sent from here, they said that first the artillery would work, then the equipment would arrive. But it turned out the other way around: the artillery fired, the misses were two kilometers away”.
According to him, when the soldiers complained about wrong coordinates, the commander brushed it aside: “I have my own coordinates”.
– There are bunkers, as they say, which they do not want to destroy [with a shell]. But no one told us anything”, the military man continues. “There was no command. And if the officers did not know what to do, then what would the sergeant do there? On my BMP, manual launch, while you launch it manually, grenade launchers will kill you. In the second battalion, 99% of the equipment does not work, we told them [senior in rank] about this here. We warned, “Our machines don’t work, don’t send us there”. From the other company, the guys said that their guns did not fire. They were told, “Just go as it is”.
At the end of March, about 300 servicemen from the self-proclaimed South Ossetia refused to participate in the war on the territory of Ukraine and returned to Tskhinvali. A source in the republic, in a conversation with Mediazona, explained that the military was sent “absolutely without anything, empty-handed”, and the inhabitants of the republic bought bulletproof vests and uniforms for them with their own money. All military personnel after returning were dismissed from the unit.
Former South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity promised to “fight for each” of the servicemen and called on the relatives of the soldiers to “refrain from protest actions” for the time being.
In February, Kokoity announced that he intended to run for president again, and at a meeting with supporters he criticized the current head of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov, including in the context of the situation with the dismissed military personnel.
The Central Election Commission of the republic did not allow Kokoity to participate in the elections, but on April 7, after a meeting with Bibilov, he was appointed “special representative of South Ossetia for the entire duration of the special operation”. The head of the republic noted that despite political differences with Kokoity, they “will serve the same goal – the development and strengthening of South Ossetia.”
“The Russian military had neither an escape route nor backup solutions”, he continues.
— There was some general who gave us a secret map. God bless him, he is a real officer. On the first day we were placed in a forest belt on the border. A general came to us and said that there would be shelling at night. And the base commander said: “Everything will be fine”. Exactly at 3:14 the shelling began, three guys were wounded. I have never seen such a defense: put up an infantry fighting vehicle and hide in the basements. We had to dig in.
The serviceman complains that conflicting orders were often received from the command:
– They said on the radio that the sixth company was defeated. We got into cars and drove to them, but we were not allowed to go there. And then we met the sixth company in the city – they said no, there was no attack on them. We were told: “Walk one kilometer.” But it turned out that [it was necessary to cover] ten. There were no directions. There were snipers shooting (inaudible). We have been lied to from day one. The documents had one destination, but we arrived at a completely different place. The place where we were supposed to arrive is 800 kilometers from where we were brought.
According to the military, three out of ten tanks did not fire.
The base commander was also there. But when the shooting started, he disappeared somewhere in 15 minutes. He was afraid of his own guys. He made himself a guard from several people. The commander of the base refused to go out to communicate with his guys and said that they would beat him now.
The military man added that later “the guys from the special forces” did actually smash the commander’s face.
“We were deceived at every corner. The mortars were not good, the legs were all crooked. From the other brigade they laughed at us: “Are you, – they say, – what, suicide bombers?” Someone said: “What do you have, captured equipment?” All the equipment started only with a push, we took it to Vladikavkaz in tow, and then people here begin to say that we were afraid of something. Here no one was afraid, we were simply deceived at every turn.
The rest of the soldiers start shouting at each other. One of them asks Bibilov to help those who are still in the hospital:
– Our friend is in hospital in Donetsk, we contacted him by phone. He says that on the first day he was bandaged, but the fragments are still inside him. He says that his hand is very swollen and no one does anything, even the doctors do not come. He has been there for five days, the doctors only ask him for money. The other had his eye injured by shrapnel. And for two days no one told him to go to the hospital. And the doctor told him: “Where were you two days ago, you lost your eye.”
On April 19, journalist Arzu Mammadova reported on her Teelegram channel that some of the returned refuseniks were able to reinstate their jobs.
“More than a hundred people from among those who recently returned from Ukraine will be reinstated in their jobs. Some of the servicemen expressed a desire to return and continue the military special operation to protect Donbas”, she wrote.
According to Mediazona’s source in the republic, Eduard Kokoity helped the dismissed refuseniks.
Another 25 people have appealed their dismissal in court, the source adds. Mediazona managed to find a lawsuit filed with the Vladikavkaz garrison military court, where 25 people are challenging the “decision to dismiss from military service”, but the defendants in it are military unit No. 3724, located in North Ossetia and subordinate to the Russian National Guard, and the commander of the North Caucasian District of the National Guard Troops of the Russian Federation, whose name is not called.
Bibilov tries to calm the military:
“You know better than me that wars are not always won by technology. There are people here who fought in 2008 and they had no equipment. If there were grenade launchers, then no more than two or three. For example, I didn’t like your speech”, he turns to the refusenik, who said that they were not sent to fight for their homeland. – “If something happened here, in our Ossetia, and if you were there, I will tell you: you are not a strategist, you are not a tactician, and there is someone to think about Ossetia. This question should not arise at all in your head”.
The hall began to scream. Someone reminded Bibilov of the death of Inal Dzhabiev, a resident of South Ossetia — in August 2020, he died on his way to the hospital from a temporary detention facility. Dzhabiev’s relatives are sure that he died due to torture during interrogation.
– When the Dzhabievs were sitting on the square, why didn’t you go out to them? Where were you then? – a question is heard from the audience.
“What, have you done a lot for Dzhabiev?”, Bibilov shouts back and slams his hand on the table. “Do you know what happened to him?” Shut your mouth! Why are you jumping up? Did you even know him? Did you know him?”
Then the head of the republic recalls that for the sake of South Ossetia “many people died – Russians and others of different nationalities”: “And now you are telling me that if something happened here, in Ossetia, we would be left alone? If these fascists, Nazis appear in Ukraine, don’t you think that on the second day they will be here, in Ossetia?”
Bibilov notes that Ossetia will be the first to “end” if “Russia stumbles”: “Know that we are fighting there, but we are defending our homeland”.
“You should have stayed there”, he scolds the soldier. “Agree or disagree, but you had to do everything to stay there. Understand correctly, no matter what reasons we find, in war the concepts are different. Do you think I don’t know that there is no equipment there, that there are bad weapons? Everyone understands this, everyone will understand this. I don’t blame you – no, but you should have stayed there”.
According to Bibilov, he himself planned to come to the frontline, and the servicemen had to wait for his arrival.
Someone in the hall notes that no one informed them about Bibilov’s arrival. “I called Radik, probably, he could not tell everyone separately”, the head of the republic says to this.
Another man asks for permission to speak:
– I have been in the army since 2003, I have seen a lot. There is a defensive war, there is an offensive war. In war, the main thing is communication and support, communication should be with commanders. When the infantry enters, the squad leader and the platoon leader must be in touch. And this connection did not exist, and without it we cannot work. They think that we were afraid, but without communication we could not do anything. For 25 minutes we fired non-stop, if there are [experienced] soldiers, they will understand that it is very difficult.
He says that the soldiers did not know the situation when they arrived in the war zone.
– We thought that the enemies were in front, but it turned out that they were on the sides. They began to fire on us from other sides, but we did not know this.
According to him, the soldiers left Ukraine because they did not want to be “cannon fodder” and “go against the tank with slingshots”.
“You should have waited for me”, Bibilov repeats again.
“There was not a single word of your arrival”, the soldier answered. – “If we knew that you would come, I would not let my guys go either”.
Bibilov says that “any way” he would have come.
One of the servicemen in the hall complains to the president that they say in the republic that they “dishonored Ossetia” with their return. “Now, too, a recruitment of volunteers is underway – let the guys who defame our name go”, one of them suggested.
– You probably don’t know, but a lot of guys have already come to me who are asking to go there, and they don’t talk about money and don’t say: “Give us weapons. Two battalions of volunteers have already been sent there”, says Bibilov.
“But after all, we were also sent there as volunteers …”, a voice is heard from the hall.
“The point is not that, but that they were not afraid to go there”, the head of the republic interrupts.
He then asks the audience if they think Russia will lose the war. A voice is heard in the hall: “Yes, we believe that it will lose”. The crowd begins to talk loudly and make noise.
– The Russians have seen many wars, Napoleon reached Moscow, and in order not to surrender Moscow, the Russians themselves burned it. Never think that the Russians will lose”, Bibilov assured the audience. “The fact that someone spreads panic does not mean anything”.
The military is again trying to return to the discussion of the lack of weapons. Someone says that the only thing that the servicemen from South Ossetia had a lot of was magazines for machine guns: “When we arrived, everyone laughed at us – this is not the kind of war, they said where you can shoot machine guns. What will the infantry do if the equipment does not work?”
Bibilov asks how old he was in 2008, he replies that he was still a child. “Therefore, it is easy for you to reason”, says the head of the republic.
“We must understand that this is a war where either I or the one next to me will be dead. In fact, we are not going to die. We must win. I speak from the bottom of my heart, I am very offended”, the politician says. “We can give a thousand reasons, but the result is the same – we are not on the battlefield. Everything else, I tell you as a military man… time will pass and no one will discuss that there were no weapons, equipment, communications. There will be victory and the parade in Kyiv will be one hundred percent!”
Someone in the hall says: “There will be, but with a large number of victims. We would have died there if we had not returned”.
– “Doesn’t matter. This is war”, Bibilov replies.