Actually, Russian media outlets have published interviews with Russian soldiers who have fought on the separatists’ side in Donbass. For instance, this illustrated account of a 22-year-old (ex-)marine from Sakhalin Island appeared on the site of Radio City Sakhalin in late January. More recently, the business newspaper Kommersant has sent its correspondent to Donbass and published his dispatches, which include conversations with Russian soldiers at Debaltsevo.

To be clear, the young man from Sakhalin said he had completed military service and was working a civilian job at the time he left for Ukraine. The soldiers in the other story are serving in the Russian army under a contract – they are not conscripts – but at that moment they were “on vacation”. I suppose their heavy weaponry was “on loan” then.

Interestingly, this is how the guy from Sakhalin explained what was then the most recent success of the separatist force, the taking of the Donetsk airport. The pro-Russians, according to him, had greater flexibility compared with the old-style Ukrainian army:

Hell knows. But the army [presumably Ukrainian] has a ‘square’ thinking (‘roll what’s square and carry what’s round’) and they give out these orders… Yes, we have our command central but we have none of this stuff, ‘or else you get court-martialed’ when nobody cares. People fight the way they want.

I’m not sure an NCO or a junior CO of 22 is in a position to judge but he might be repeating the views of his senior comrades-in-arms. He’s referring to a common view of the Soviet army (and its offspring) as a theater of the absurd where everything is done in the most stupid and convoluted way imaginable – in peacetime. He’s also hinting that Ukrainian generals, being essentially Soviet generals, don’t care if their orders are realistic and overuse the threat of a court martial.

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