The Russian military is so low on ammo that troops are reduced to fighting with e-tools

“One of the reservists described being ‘neither physically nor psychologically’ prepared for the action.”
Jared Keller Avatar
russian military mpl-50 entrenching tool shovel ukraine
Russian reservists conscripted for military service during a partial mobilisation undergo additional training at a training ground of Eastern military district, in Zabaikalsky Krai region, Russia on October 13, 2022. (Evgeny Yepanchintsev / Sputnik via Associated Press)

The Russian military is running so low on small arms and ammunition that reservists reported facing down Ukrainian defenders while armed with little more than entrenching tools, according to Western intelligence.

A recent update from the UK Ministry of Defense indicates that some Russian-mobilized reservists have reported their commanding officers sending them to attack Ukrainian fortifications with “only ‘firearms and shovels.’”

The shovels employed in hand-to-hand combat, per the UK Defense Ministry, are likely MPL-50 entrenching tools that have been in Russia’s arsenal for more than 150 years.

The continued use of e-tools by Russian infantry “highlights the brutal and low-tech fighting which has come to characterize much of” the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to the UK Ministry of Defense. “One of the reservists described being ‘neither physically nor psychologically’ prepared for the action.”

“Recent evidence suggests an increase in close combat in Ukraine,” the Defense Ministry update concludes. “This is probably a result of the Russian command continuing to insist on offensive action largely consisting of dismounted infantry, with less support from artillery fire because Russia is short of munitions.”

russian military mpl-50 entrenching tool shovel ukraine
A Russian MPL-50 entrenching tool. (Wikimedia Commons)

With the Russian military a veritable dumpster fire of a fighting force, it’s no surprise that dismounted soldiers have been stuck with little more than e-tools. Equipment and ammo shortages have become a defining feature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine since early in the conflict when footage of Russian soldiers looting grocery stores in search of food became a symbol of their military’s logistical shortcomings.

Such problems have only become more pronounced in the last six months following the Russian military’s mobilization of 300,000 poorly-trained and barely-equipped conscripts. In October, the Associated Press and Guardian documented multiple cases of newly mobilized soldiers complaining about getting issued rusty firearms and having to buy their own grenades and body armor. 

Regarding munitions, as of December the Russian military had started dipping into 40-year-old stockpiles (most of them likely in “degraded conditions,” as a U.S. military official put it at the time) to keep up with the extremely rapid rate of artillery expenditures that defined the early part of the conflict. 

As of early January, Russian rates of artillery fire were down nearly 75% from the previous wartime high, CNN reported citing U.S. and Ukrainian officials, suggesting that the military “may be rationing artillery rounds due to low supplies.”

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Equipment shortfalls have resulted in those harrowing conditions for Russian conscripts documented in the UK Defense Ministry intelligence assessment. In a video circulated on Telegram and other Russian social media networks in late January, a group of Russian soldiers bemoaned the state of their supplies. 

“Our commander gave us an order not to retreat from our positions. But the commander gave us no cover and no support,” according to a translation by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “We had only machine guns, and all the rest of the weapons were damaged.”

“Now they’re accusing us of desertion, since the company commander says he didn’t give the order,” the soldiers said. “In sum, command doesn’t care about us.”

Given that the UK Defense Ministry assessment believes that Russian troops are “neither physically nor psychologically” prepared for the close-quarters combat that would necessitate the use of an entrenching tool, we can probably all rest assured that there won’t be a Russian version of Korean War e-tool legend Benjamin Wilson on the horizon anytime soon.

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