BBC, September 17, 2022: “Ukraine war: Russian retreat exposes military weakness” – Russia is contacting veterans to rejoin the army. “Possibly to make the proposition of serving more attractive, the minimum contract length has been slashed from three years to three months, and the upper age limit for a first contract raised from 40 to 60 years old.
Wow, exulted Sergei, his full name a state secret. The list of state secrets in Putin’s democratic Russia is rapidly expanding; it includes your urges and dictionary words. Expressing the desire for a real McDonald burger or using the word “war” rightly lands you in jail. There is no place for such subversive desires and expressions in a democracy fighting the Fascist regime in Kyiv. Sergei had just received a phone call from a very senior officer in the army, at least that is what the caller said. The caller had praised Sergei for his bravery in firing shells from his tank into residential blocks in Chechnya to cook the goose of evil mothers indulging in the evil of cooking tasty dishes for their evil Islamist sons. Would he like to repeat those acts of bravery against the Ukrainian mothers?
The “senior officer” gave a long list of perks in addition to pay; free hearing aids, free dentures, free medicines and a free walking stick. “You will forget you are old; we take care of everything, even free coffin and burial plot.” If I survive the war, will you pay me cash equivalent of the coffin and the burial plot, asked Sergei. That eventuality does not arise, assured the senior, even for those who desert; we shoot them. Sergei was reassured; very few things are certain in Russia. Yet, it seemed certain that departure for Ukraine was on a one-way ticket.
What was verry alluring was the three-month contract. What about training, he asked. Yes, that is part of your duty. You are a veteran; during battle you will train the greenhorns. Particularly the sound part, that is why we give hearing aids. The incoming missiles have to be judged; speed, direction and everything else. Then move to a safe spot; there is a joke in the trenches – judge or judgment day. Having lived in the USSR, Sergei knew when to laugh and how much, to keep a senior in good humour.
Sergei got another call a little while later. It was Yevgeniy Prigozhin the head of the Wagner group. He offered double the pay. What about other perks like hearing aids, dentures and the walking stick? Prigozhin was happy whenever these question were asked. We are not tight-fisted like the government, he said. The army offers you Chinese stuff; it steals your personal data like whom you cursed while having that tasteless, cold breakfast. We give you everything made in Vietnam, Malaysia or Indonesia. These countries have not yet graduated to data harvesting through hearing aids, dentures and walking sticks. Your privacy is important to us, said Prigozhin solemnly.
It was a tough choice for Sergei; should he go to lucrative Wagner for monetary benefits or serve the motherland directly. As with Western countries when dealing with China, jingle of money seemed to be winning. Yet, he made one last call to Prigozhin. Do I have to go on a suicide mission? No, he said emphatically. A patriot never commits suicide; he is always martyred for his country. That clinched the decision for Sergei. He decided to report to the Army.
Sergei was handed over the uniform and the AK-47 with 200 rounds of ammunition, enough for a minute’s worth of burst. He was also given proof of delivery of one month’s pay, in advance, to his mother. I don’t have a mother, Sergei exclaimed. We found one, said the accountant; paper work had to be completed. We can’t lose a fighter merely because he does not have a mother. What about training, Sergei asked the last question. After so many questions, your training is complete, assured the instructor as he pushed Sergei towards the waiting truck.
His first experience of battle was different from what he had experienced in the last stint with the army. Never move away from your weapon, the sergeant used to bark. The new command was, rush to the gun, load, fire, rush away as fast as you can. The shells are tracked and the return gift is never delayed. The other was about surrender; Russians used to be told that surrender to Hitler’s forces was worse than death; that is why so many Russians died in the trenches and very few in the POW camps in WW II. The new mantra was, surrender to the Ukrainians at the first opportunity. There is enough law of war and hot food on the other side of the line.
Americans and Europeans have told Zelensky that the only body better than a dead Russian is a Russian defector. Of course, better than a Russian defector is a Russian coming over with a white flag on an armoured vehicle. He is almost certain to be recommended for US citizenship; a dream come true for anybody Russian or Chinese. Have you noticed that Zelensky keeps bragging about the number of Russians killed but does not talk about the number taken prisoner? Biden has told him to deliver at least ten defectors for every million dollars worth of weapons. That makes Putin and Xi happy because the defectors are recruited in the service of the motherland as soon as they become US citizens.
Sergei was the happiest man in the world as he moved his armoured vehicle ever closer to the frontline, repeatedly checking the white flag in his pocket. Oh, what great times to be a soldier in the Russian army all over again!
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