What changed after the infamous letter of Russian marines to Primorsky region Governor Kozhemyako? What happened to commanders that the service members complained about? Do Russian military personnel have days off? A 155th naval infantry brigade marine answers these questions and more. He is on the frontlines right now.
In November, Russian “war correspondents” and media disseminated a letter written by members of the 155th Guard Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Ocean Fleet to the Primorsky regional governor.
This detachment is considered to be an elite one, very strict selection criteria are applied to join it. The brigade is stationed in Vladivostok, while Governor Oleg Kozhemyako supports the “special military operation” and Primorsky regional military: he travels to the frontlines and training grounds and sends aid. That is why the letter was sent to him.
The marines blamed their inept command for terrible casualties in Pavlivka, Donbas (300 people killed, wounded, and missing in 4 days). They particularly pointed the finger at General Rustam Muradov (placed in command of the Eastern Military District in early October) and Sukhrab Akhmedov (was in command of the coastal defence troops). The fighters wrote that they are branded as “meat”, while military operations are conducted to win awards for commanders.
Novaya Gazeta Europe contacted a private of the 155th Guard Naval Infantry Brigade’s assault combat battalion. The editor’s office has learnt his name, rank, and location.
The fighters do not doubt the authenticity of the letter unlike the Defence Ministry, which refuted the facts laid out in this appeal. Novaya-Europe was told by the private that many of his comrades-in-arms decided to quit the army because of their commanders and their distrust for the military personnel (particularly, the data obtained by intelligence near one of the villages — this is the reason the marines sustained huge losses in early March). Those who decided to quit were labelled as “deserters” and “prone to betrayal” in their military documents.
“When I left the frontline again, I saw for myself that the letter about Pavlivka was definitely not a fake. I heard about it first-hand from the people who were on the frontlines. Why are opinions different about Pavlivka? There are people who were on the frontline and there are those who were part of some evacuation team. If you call the latter, they say it’s all good. But the guys who saw everything with their own eyes wrote the letter.”
Colonel Sukhrab Akhmedov. Photo: Taifun all-Russia marine NGO
ё“The news emerged that [commander of the coastal defence troops Colonel Sukhrab] Akhmedov was going to be removed from his position and our information suggests that he will be promoted. It means that there’s a chance that [brigade commander Colonel Mikhail] Gudkov can be ousted as well. He seems to be also apparently considered for a promotion. Well yeah, Pavlivka was captured after all. There were losses but no one gives a **** about them because we still captured Pavlivka. Therefore, they get awards and regalia for it.”
“The battalion has been reinforced 7 times already. There are very few contract soldiers, the main source is volunteers and draftees.”
“Commanders seem to have no qualms about sending people on suicide missions. They need to get a Hero [of Russia] star [award] and a general star [rank], the rest will be forgotten in the war.”
“They once were handing out equipment to people who didn’t have some, and a squadron commander uttered this: ‘They won’t need it.’ He then answered a foreman’s question, saying that we would all die under these orders. The morale is at rock bottom after these conversations, there is no desire to serve under this ‘commander’.”
“Very wrong people are getting state awards. I am not playing down their accomplishments at all but I still think that an assault trooper is just as worthy of an award as a supply unit specialist or a staff officer. But no one cares about the former for some reason.”
In a basement on a drip
“If there’s a new normal commander of the brigade, the guys will immediately get their well-deserved time off and will not get ****ed up orders, no one will have to listen to the verbal diarrhoea about distrust and cowardness, the lightly injured will be sent to hospitals and not be held in some basement on a drip.”
“There’s a lot of talk about draftee intimidation… I can tell you a case of one soldier. He was concussed and his ears were bleeding. When this guy was in a basement on a drip, a brigade commander was outraged: ‘Why is this body still lying here? Send him to the frontline!’ I don’t know how the story ended. People with light injuries were not taken to hospitals and were treated on the spot, away from the frontline. There were issues with injury compensations. Basically, you get a very ****ed up impression about this person. And I think that this is not the last story that I will hear in conversations with comrades.”
“I remember Akhmedov visited us for an inspection. As soon as there was shelling, he jumped in the car and left. Speak to every person in the brigade who has been here a while…”
“I remember complaints of draftees about the old weapons, being left in a forest, and so on. This is if anyone thinks that our complaints are similar. Not at all! Old weapons can be serviced, it will take you 90 minutes at best, while you can get an order to take positions anywhere. You should be able to hunker down in a field or forest, and settle down there. These are war realities, and you should not complain about them really. It’s clear to anyone that a soldier can go without food or sleep for 24 hours. Supply lines are working. It’s not a resort, but no one promised one either.”
Support independent journalism
All independent media have been banned in Russia which makes our work not only challenging but outright dangerous. We need your support.
“The issue of days off was raised, Gudkov responded: ‘No one is tired under my command or needs time off’. Sure, but did anyone ask the guys? The ones who got 15 days of ‘rehabilitation’ and were ****ing fighting the rest of the time (9 months).”
“There are people who did not request leave for 2 years or more. There have been no leaves since partial mobilisation was announced, you cannot get discharged either: it [mobilisation] seemingly ended, but there’s been no official decree about it. People were filing formal requests about leave earned in 2021 and immediate readiness to return to the ‘special military operation’ after their days off. It goes without saying really that these requests were not granted, while they were taken to the frontlines.”
“In all honesty, the guys are ****ing exhausted after toiling for so many months now. If it continues, there will be injuries and wounds out of recklessness or when drunk, which are already on the rise.”
“Guys might literally lose it, never mind the moral state of their relatives who cannot always contact them via phone or see them on a video call.”
Colonel Mikhail Gudkov. Photo: Gazeta.ua
“As for the leaves and rotations, Gudkov reports higher up that we don’t need replacements. As if no one is tired or needs days off. We look at other brigades, from Ussuriysk (Primorsky region’s city 100 km away from Vladivostok — editor’s note) and other cities. Those who were sent from there were replaced in June and July and they entered [the battlezone] in early March. So, there are rotations, especially in the Russian National Guard, the Holuay spetsnaz (a naval special-ops reconnaissance post on the Russky Island — editor’s note), and, I think, in many other units that have normal commanders. But not in ours.”
“We don’t know why they don’t want to grant leaves for the personnel. There were talks that when [the Russian troops] retreated away from Kyiv, all home appliances and valuables were taken to Belarus. I don’t rule out that commanders were involved in this. Possibly, if we get leave, they will also have to go on leave to Russia. This is where relevant agencies will start working, soldiers also have a lot of questions for them. Or they are just so boneheaded that awards are more important for him than the lives of seamen and soldiers. Pacific Ocean Fleet Commander Admiral Avakyants is possibly scared of something and does not want to let us go. Or are there any other reasons?”
“The news reached us again that we must capture another town. Vuhledar, or maybe not and it is an easier target. Allegedly, it is our last mission, and then everyone will be granted leave on 25 [December]. But I have very little faith in it. Draftees and volunteers, two floors in the barracks, are sent away on 19 [December]. Instructors are not let go just yet seemingly. There were rumours about rotations in August, April, and May. Well, everybody is still here for now. Those who were lucky enough to be lightly injured ended up in Russia. The garrison perimeter is not to be crossed of course, but people are ignoring this. So, a person gets 30 days off due to an injury, and it’s better if he spends this time with family at home. I think everybody will agree that the best rehabilitation is to just be with your family and not in a medical facility somewhere…”
“If your contract ends in the battle zone, it is automatically extended by 1 month. If your contract is over and you get to Russia, you are eligible to be discharged. But you cannot get out of here by yourself because of this rule: you will either be criminally prosecuted as a deserter or go there as cargo 300 (injured soldier evacuated from the battle zone — translator’s note). Or there’ll be a miracle and you will be told that you can take leave and go to Russia.”
‘One more month and I will come undone’
“Some guys have been here since the very beginning, 24 February. They had 15 days of rehabilitation in June, the rest of the time they spent here. It takes 3-4 days to get there. They spent very little time at home and went straight back.”
“This is the thing, if people hit the bottle, the commander won’t say a word, he does it as well. Because men need an emotional break, some cannot cope anymore. Imagine how hard it is for the chief medical surgeon to see injured and killed people all the time. He just says: ‘One more month and I will come undone’.”
“I cannot say much about draftees for now. Some have been here for a month and a half. Some smelled powder. But I cannot say that they were ruffled. It is primarily those who constantly get hammered, back home and here equally. And they get beaten up for it. Objectors are also among them. Some wuss out and run back, that’s our losses as well. Draftees barely manage to squat when a mortar shell flies at us and you need to quickly throw your face in the mud. So, they are slow and sluggish.”
Join us in rebuilding Novaya Gazeta Europe
The Russian government has banned independent media. We were forced to leave our country in order to keep doing our job, telling our readers about what is going on Russia, Ukraine and Europe.
We will continue fighting against warfare and dictatorship. We believe that freedom of speech is the most efficient antidote against tyranny. Support us financially to help us fight for peace and freedom.