The Russian military’s disregard for its soldiers has done more than undermine their combat performance. It has also tanked their morale and will to fight. Officers steal the contents of care packages so routinely that some soldiers have called their mothers and told them not to bother sending anything. Officials forget to pay soldiers their entitled combat pay, and units abandon the bodies of the fallen. It is little wonder, then, that some Russian troops simply melted away from the conflict, deserting fully functional modernized equipment in Ukrainian fields. Other soldiers have called their mothers to tell them they were considering shooting themselves in the leg so they could leave.
With discipline and morale faltering, Russian troops began looting what they could from Ukraine and shipping it back home—including washing machines, frying pans, televisions from Ukrainian schools, and even used mascara. They raided Ukrainian convenience stores for meat, cigarettes, and alcohol. When they ran out of food from markets, they stole it (along with livestock) directly from Ukrainian people. According to intercepted phone calls released by Ukraine’s intelligence services, some Russian soldiers have even eaten dogs.
Given how the Russian military mistreats its own personnel, it is also no surprise that Russian soldiers have engaged in widespread crimes. None of this is justifiable, and in multiple Ukrainian villages and cities, Russian troops have engaged in unspeakable atrocities—including torture, rape, and executions. But the fish rots from the head, and rather than showing concern about these abuses or issuing directives ordering them to stop, the Kremlin bestowed an honorific title on one of the units accused of committing atrocities in Bucha.