As the Russo-Ukrainian War passes the one-year mark, it appears the invading Russian forces may be struggling more than ever with a lack of equipment. According to Western intelligence, Russia’s reservists are facing the Ukrainian military with little more than firearms and shovels.
Word of the Russia’s equipment struggles comes from the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence, which, in an update posted to Twitter, indicated that commanders are sending reservists into battle with just shovels and firearms, leading to an increase in the amount of close-combat infantry operations in Ukraine.
Among the entrenching tools being used by the Russians is the MPL-50, a Danish infantry spade that dates back to 1869. It’s been equipped by infantrymen ever since, and over the century and a half it’s seen action, little has changed in regard to its design.
Along with being used as a shovel, the MPL-50 can be wielded as an axe and hammer. Spetsnaz operators are also trained to use it in hand-to-hand combat.
According to the UK’s Ministry of Defence, “it’s continued use as a weapon highlights the brutal and low-tech fighting which has come to characterise much of the war.” In particular, this can be seen in the ongoing Battle of Bakhmut, where the majority of the fighting has descended into close-quarters trench warfare.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 5 March 2023
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) March 5, 2023
CNN reports that Russian artillery fire has decreased as much as 75 percent, signaling to many that the country’s military is rationing artillery rounds due to supply shortages.
Since the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War in February 2022, issues with the amount of available equipment, munitions and other supplies have plagued the Russian military. Early on, video footage showed soldiers looting Ukrainian grocery stores for food, and, just this past fall, reports emerged of recruits complaining of a lack of training, poor food and medicine stores, and abhorrent accommodations.
In October 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin created a new committee to increase the level of production of weapons and supplies, telling Kremlin officials to cut through any and all bureaucracy to make sure troops were adequately equipped. In the meantime, he’s been forced to authorize the use of Cold War-era tanks and munitions, which have degraded in the decades since they were put into storage.
As winter gives way to spring and the fighting intensifies in Ukraine, only time will tell if Russia will be able to re-equip its forces or if close-quarters combat will continue to be the dominant form of fighting.