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Ever since Russia’s wars in Chechnya, the country has allegedly attempted to extort some of its own soldiers for money, according to a Russian human rights activist.
Valentina Melnikova, the executive secretary of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia, told the independent news site Meduza in an interview that her organization has received complaints of Russian soldiers being asked to pay for weapons and other equipment they lost in battle. The Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia advocates for soldiers’ rights and attempts to help servicemen who have been hit with these alleged extortion attempts.
Russia has been focusing its offensive in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine after initially centering the invasion—which began in late February—around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. According to a campaign assessment for Wednesday from the Institute for the Study of War, Russian forces “prioritized advances east and west of Popasna in order to cut Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) southwest of Severodonetsk and complete encirclement efforts in Luhansk Oblast.” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Thursday that “fighting has reached its maximum intensity,” according to The Washington Post.
The military’s purported efforts to get money from its soldiers underscore larger indications of low morale and poor treatment of Russian soldiers. While the Kremlin and Russian officials do not appear to have addressed the various allegations and reports that point to these issues of discontent, asking soldiers to hand over cash in addition to their service might cause additional problems for a military that is reportedly also facing a rebellion problem.
Melnikova mentioned one complaint that came after several soldiers escaped captivity, relied on vegetables from gardens to survive and then were asked to pay for the weapons they lost when they ultimately returned to their unit.
“There was another case that occurred when soldiers were undergoing exercises before the war,” Melnikova said. “Some of them turned in their ammunition and refused to go to the front, and their superior demanded they pay for the ammunition: ‘Where’s your body armor? Did you turn it in or not? You need to pay for it.'”
She said that her organization has been facing these issues ever since the wars in Chechnya, which is now a republic of Russia. The First Chechen War took place from 1994 to 1996, and the Second Chechen War was from 1999 to 2009.
“In the Second Chechen War, one guy returned home from the war, and his unit presented him with the number of weapons he’d allegedly lost—more weapons than can fit on a KAMAZ truck,” Melnikova said.
She said that the organization tries to ensure that nobody “extorts” the soldiers and they report any issues to Russia’s attorney general.
“When the guys themselves report these cases, they don’t even know who it is who’s demanding the money,” Melnikova told Meduza. “The soldiers just say ‘they,’ but they don’t know who this ‘they’ is. But it’s signal enough for us: The prosecutor needs to come and sort it out.”
When asked how often authorities are willing to assist with the complaints, Melnikova said that they take action when it comes to specific soldiers.
“But the responses they provide, as a rule, are very short. I assume it’s because we often ask questions that not all military structures have the right to answer,” she added.
Newsweek reached out to Russia’s Defense Ministry for comment.