By ALEXANDER J. MOTYL
While Russian men have been killing, raping and pillaging in Ukraine, their families have been no less busy enjoying the spoils of war.
Take Olga Bykovskaya, mother of one child and currently living in Feodosia in Crimea. The Security Service of Ukraine recently revealed a recording of a telephone conversation between Olga and her husband, Roman Bykovsky. “Go for it, and rape the Ukrainian broads,” she instructs him, “and don’t tell me anything. Got it? The main thing is: wear protection.” The couple hails from Orel province in Russia; Bykovsky is currently stationed somewhere in Ukraine’s Kherson province.
Or consider a nameless lady from Tver province. Here’s the announcement she posted on an internet marketplace site: “Will sell Metabo drill for 2,400 rubles, trademark, in excellent condition, husband brought it from the special operation in Ukraine. All questions to watsapp [sic] 8(919)8175573.” And one father advised his son serving near Kharkiv to take apart Mercedes cars, because “their spare parts are expensive.”
These three examples are no exceptions. Russian soldiers have been sending piles of loot home. According to a map compiled by Ukrainian IT specialists, Russian soldiers have dispatched their ill-gotten booty to addresses evenly distributed throughout Russia, with the exception of Moscow and St. Petersburg, which received higher-than- average numbers of shipments. Meanwhile, Belarusian journalists were able to track down another set of shipments and discover just how enormous the booty was.
A few examples will establish the dimensions concerned.
Yevgeny Kovalenko sent 992 lbs. worth of goodies home; Artem Lazarev sent a mere 562 lbs.; Pavel Nikolaev was a distant third at 451 lbs.; Andrei Serdtsev and Georgy Valiev were both good for 330 lbs. The lowest amount was sent by Igor Kuzmin: a paltry 110 lbs. Poor Igor must have been having a bad day. And one can just imagine the hell he’ll get upon returning home to his wife.
As to what the Russians stole, the loot included electrical instruments, television sets, tables, chairs, air conditioners, clothes, and fishing equipment. Some Russians had never seen an indoor toilet. One must assume they refrained from taking them since installing them in their hometowns would have posed far too great a technical challenge.
Unsurprisingly, there’s also a functioning outdoor marketplace for the stolen goods in the city of Naroulia, Belarus. According to the security service of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the assortment of goods available for barter or purchase contains washing machines, dishwashers,
refrigerators, cars, bicycles, motorcycles, cooking utensils, rugs, artworks, children’s toys, and cosmetics.
Word appears to be getting out that serving in the Russian army can translate into a quick buck. One army instructor in Rostov province has complained that the newest batch of conscripts consists of “drug addicts, old men, and prostitutes in male attire.” Having heard of the looting from other soldiers, this odd collection of misfits is averse to learning about combat and is focused on picking up the best ways to loot. Apparently, they’ve even taken to looting their fellow looters.
Looting appears to have become a systemic problem or, perhaps more accurately, systemic opportunity. The officers in charge obviously know what’s going on; chances are they’ve given their soldiers the green light. After all, if one can kill and rape with abandon, why not loot?
Such medieval approaches to modern warfare suggest several conclusions. First, the condition of Russia’s army is evidently far worse than anyone imagined. The army that was once touted as the second best in the world is behaving like a bunch of Wild West robbers.
Second, a country in such dire need of elementary utensils and clothes obviously possesses an economy that is more reminiscent of an underdeveloped third-world country than a modern state. Russia really is Burkina Faso — my apologies to the residents of that West African country for the unflattering comparison — with the A-bomb.
Third, Russians know full well what their troops are doing to and in Ukraine. When the day of judgment comes, they will not be able to pretend innocence by claiming that they never knew.
Finally, a country with an undisciplined army and a poor economy is in no position to win a war. Russian President Vladimir Putin should have known this. That he didn’t is testimony to his abysmal leadership skills. The man is no grandmaster. He’s still learning checkers — which he probably picked up for a song in Naroulia.
Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction.