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‘Empty Promises’: Wives of Russian Soldiers Fighting in Ukraine Say Pay is Not What Was Promised

Members of Russia’s invading forces in Ukraine are receiving their pay in many cases either late, not in full, or not at all, the wives of several conscripted or mobilized soldiers have told RFE/RL.

Yekaterina, from Ivanovo, some 300 kilometers northeast of Moscow, told North.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL’s Russian Service, that her husband, Aleksandr, was mobilized on October 21 but hasn’t received any pay for the last two months.

“He asks about pay, but only receives empty promises. His commanders tell him he just needs to wait, but there’s been no money coming in for two months now,” Yekaterina complains, adding that taking care of an infant with no relatives to help only adds to her anxiety.

“You probably know yourself that it’s not easy to raise a child on 20,000 to 30,000 rubles ($250-$380) a month, because you need diapers, food, and so on,” she says.

It’s not an isolated case. Across Russia, relatives of those fighting in Russia’s invasion have said that pay is either being delayed or not being received at all, the independent Ukrainian media outlet Verstka reported, based on monitoring social media posts in 52 Russian regions as well as illegally annexed Crimea.

According to the report by Verstka, those impacted include professional soldiers and those who have recently enlisted in the army, as well as conscripts dragooned during Russia’s “partial mobilization” drive.

The inability of Russia’s military bureaucracy to cope with the swelling numbers of fresh Russian troops is likely the reason for the pay delays, Valentina Melnikova, who heads the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia, told Verstka.

“We’ve never had so many people involved in conflicts before. Neither volunteers nor the mobilized have ever been [in the army before]. There is no experience of working with such personnel,” Verstka quoted Melnikova as saying.

The “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens to fight in the country’s invasion of Ukraine triggered not only protests but a mass exodus after it was announced last September. Tens of thousands fled the country by car across land border crossings or bought airline tickets out of the country.

In a bid to lure Russians to pick up a gun and participate in Russia’s unprovoked aggression, the government of President Vladimir Putin — recently indicted by the International Criminal Court for the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children – has promised hefty pay.

According to official information, the starting salary for a Russian soldier fighting in Ukraine is around 195,000 rubles ($2,535) a month — nearly 14 times higher than the median salary in some regions of Russia.

Yelizaveta from the Vologda Oblast told North.Realities that her husband, Kirill, 25, saw his pay drastically cut recently, allegedly to punish him for returning late to his regiment after a visit home to see his newborn daughter.

“He was paid 6,000 rubles ($75) for February; the rest was cut. Our baby is only a month old and we have no money,” she said, adding that commanders told her husband that it was unclear when his full pay would be reinstated, although she says that had been dipping in recent months as well.

“Previously, they paid 220,000 rubles a month, then less and less. For January, it was 195,000,” she said.

Yulia, from Ust-Ilimsk in Irkutsk, in Russia’s Siberia region, says her husband signed a contract to fight in Ukraine but has only been paid less than one-quarter of what he was promised.

“Only a salary of 30,000 rubles ($380) has been paid,” said Yulia, who, like Yekaterina, futilely turned to Russian officials for help and answers.

“I wrote everywhere. But he is not alone. Everyone who left with him is not receiving [pay] as well,” Yulia said.

She refused to point the finger of blame at the Kremlin, however.

“Well, there can be many reasons. We can only guess, be patient, and wait,” she said. “The Russian people are patient.”

Close to 200,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, The New York Times reported in late February.

The Russian military placed its death toll at under 6,000 in September, its most recent acknowledgment of its losses. Open source-based media tallies have verified more than twice that number of Russian deaths.

Ukraine, meanwhile, says it is investigating more than 76,000 alleged Russian war crimes, including killings, kidnappings, indiscriminate bombings, and sexual assaults.

On March 17, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, a Russian children’s rights official, on the charge of illegally deporting thousands of Ukrainian children into Russia.

Besides not being remunerated, Russian soldiers are reportedly not being properly equipped for battle, in many cases. Men mobilized for deployment in Ukraine have been instructed to bring their own medical supplies due to dire shortages at the front.

With supplies low or nonexistent, families have been forced to buy their own equipment, including thermal underwear and body armor, for mobilized soldiers, The Guardian reported in October.

Yelizaveta from the city of Volzhsky, an industrial town in the Volgograd region, claims that her husband was not paid for his service in January or February.

“Before that, everything came fine: 195,000 [rubles] every month on the 12th [of the month]. I haven’t asked anyone about it yet. My husband has been [deployed in the invasion] since September; he’s a volunteer,” she explains.

The pay problems come as the Kremlin is grappling with rising expenditures but shrinking revenues.

Russia’s federal budget deficit rose to 2.58 trillion rubles ($34.19 billion) in the first two months of the year as government spending skyrocketed amid slumping revenue from oil and gas sales, the Russian Finance Ministry reported on March 6.

Moscow relies on income from oil and gas — last year around 11.6 trillion rubles — to fund its budget spending and has been forced to start selling international reserves to cover a deficit stretched by the cost of the Ukraine invasion, Reuters reported.

Putin told government officials in Moscow on March 29 that sanctions imposed by the West to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine could have a “negative impact” on the country’s economy. It was a rare admission from the Russian leader, who just weeks earlier — on March 14 — had dismissed the impact of Western sanctions on Russia’s economy, boasting that the country’s “economic sovereignty” was stronger than ever.

Economist Janis Kluge of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs calculates that Western sanctions alone have “basically shrunk Russia’s economy by 10 percent,” a larger impact than the 2008 financial crisis.

Source : Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty