Two high-ranking Russian military officers have been caught shit-talking Kremlin leadership in unimaginably colorful language. The two colonels blast the defense minister and lash out at that “motherfucker” Vladimir Putin for his poor strategy in Ukraine, according to a leaked recording of a phone conversation.
While Western and Ukrainian intelligence agencies have routinely reported on plunging morale among rank-and-file Russian troops fighting in Ukraine, many of whom have been heard complaining of dysfunction in intercepted communications, the latest audio appears to be the first to expose frustrations among high-ranking officers.
Radio Free Europe’s Ukrainian service published the curse-laden recording late Monday, reporting that it was provided by Ukrainian intelligence. One of the men heard in the purported intercepted call—identified as Colonel Maksim Vlasov—is no stranger to the eight-year war in Ukraine’s Donbas. He has been wanted by Ukrainian authorities since 2018 for the 2015 shelling of Mariupol—an attack in which he previously implicated himself by carelessly blabbing about it by phone in an earlier intercepted phone call covered by Bellingcat.
The latest recording, dated April 14, is said to show Vlasov and another colonel, Vitaly Kovtun, a doctor at the Naro-Fominsk military hospital said to hold many military honors, raging against the many failures of Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.
They both express particular ire for Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
“There are horrible losses of our guys, fuck. And you know, I am familiar with military history a bit, and I compare this to the fucking Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-1940. It’s fucking one and the same,” said Vlasov, referring to a war in which the Soviets are estimated to have lost 126,875 troops.
He goes on to take aim at Shoigu, whom he describes as an “incompetent fucking layman.”
“He’s a layman in his work. This is not his fucking thing. He’s just a fucking showman,” the man identified as Vlasov says.
Kovtun responds in kind, saying, “Shoigu is fucking shit. [There are] no contracted forces. Of course not! Why would there fucking be? They paid them 30,000 rubles [$490], where are they going to get contractees?”
The pair also takes aim at the military leadership they say the Kremlin has put in charge in Ukraine.
“Shoigu has assembled all these fucked up [Emergency Situations] guys… if we have head of inspection Colonel-General [Pavel] Plat, fuck, he’s never even served in the army…” Vlasov said.
“They’ve brought forth a whole stellar cast of bootlickers. That [Alexander} Dvornikov is a legend of fuckery… He’s the one who thought up this ‘anti-Banderov push,’” he said, apparently referring to the Kremlin’s narrative about Ukrainians all being neo-Nazis.
“Well, basically, he’s fucking washed up, a brain-dead idiot,” he said.
Kovtun, complaining that Russian forces haven’t been ruthless enough in their assault on Ukraine, blasts Putin personally for Moscow’s retreat from Kyiv.
“A fucking rocket should fly into the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine’s Parliament] in Kyiv. That’s it, fuck it. Why didn’t [a rocket] fucking fly? I don’t fucking get it, you’re fucked, Putin—motherfucker! Why didn’t a rocket fly into Kyiv, so they’d think… fuck, yes, for fuck’s sake there’s something wrong... something hasn’t been done the right way.”
Reporters with the news outlet say they contacted Kovtun directly to ask how he can call for the Russian bombing of Ukrainian cities when he himself was born in Ukraine and has relatives there.
“Even if [the bombs] don’t hit the target, fuck, let them be afraid,” a man identified as Kovtun can be heard responding in an audio clip of the call, before saying, “I don’t give a damn, I’ll alert the FSB about you and that’s it.”
When asked if that means he’s ready to cop to his words about Shoigu being “shit,” Kovtun suddenly seemed to have a change of heart, saying, “No, I’m not ready [to do that]. I don’t want to.”
Vlasov was also contacted by reporters about the recording, but he immediately hung up, according to audio released by the news outlet.
As of April 2022, Vlasov is said to have held a senior position in the artillery service of the 2nd Guards Motor Rifle Division of the 1st Guards Tank Army of the Western Military District of the Russian Federation. He was also reportedly transferred to the analytical department of the 1st Guards Tank Army, which had a command post deployed to the Belgorod region on the border with Ukraine.
The pair’s expletive-laced venting session has surfaced as Western intelligence reports more and more mutiny by Russian troops on the battlefield. The British Ministry of Defence, in its latest assessment, said Putin’s soldiers are likely going to be even less effective going into the fourth month of the war, due to the “the loss of a large proportion of the younger generation of professional officers.”
“More immediately, battalion tactical groups which are being reconstituted in Ukraine from survivors of multiple units are likely to be less effective due to a lack of junior leaders,” the ministry said, adding that the shortage of “experienced and credible platoon and company commanders is likely to result in a further decrease in morale and continued poor discipline.”
In line with that assessment, Ukraine’s Security Service on Tuesday released audio of what it said was a Russian soldier telling his wife about his unit’s recent rebellion against a Russian general.
After troops refused to follow orders to go to the frontline, he said, the general “started waving his gun and shooting,” threatening to fire at those who wouldn’t follow orders.
But another guy in the unit quickly whipped out a grenade and threatened the general right back, saying, “Come on, shoot me! We’ll blow up together!,” he said.
“The special forces guys also started pointing their guns at us. So, we pointed our guns at them. Basically, we almost shot each other, for fuck’s sake,” he said.