Russian troops have been forced to use shovels during hand-to-hand combat in Ukraine due to a shortage of ammunition as Vladimir Putin continues to lose his grip on the war.
In the latest update from Britain’s Ministry of Defence on the situation in Ukraine, it revealed that Russian mobilised reservists have said they were ordered to assault a Ukrainian concrete strong point armed with only ‘firearms and shovels’.
The MoD said the shovels like the MPL 50 were likely also the tools used for hand-to-hand combat.
A standard-issue MPL 50 shovel has the mythologised reputation in Russia of being particularly lethal.
The shovel design hasn’t changed much since its first introduction back in 1869. It is small and just 50cm (20in) in length.
In the Ministry of Defence’s latest update on the situation in Ukraine, it revealed that Russian mobilised reservists said they were ordered to assault a Ukrainian concrete strong point armed with only ‘firearms and shovels’. The MoD said the shovels like the MPL 50 were likely also the tools used for hand-to-hand combat (file image)
A standard-issue MPL 50 shovel has the mythologised reputation in Russia of being particularly lethal. The shovel design hasn’t changed much since its first introduction back in 1869. It is small and just 50cm (20in) in length (file image)
It was used by the military as a close combat weapon, for entrenching as well as an axe and hammer in the Russian Empire, then Soviet Union and then its successor states since its invention.
Soviet Spetsnaz units reportedly trained using the MPL 50 shovel for hand-to-hand combat fighting.
The MoD said the usage of the shovel as a weapon ‘highlights the brutal and low-tech fighting which has come to characterise much of the war’.
It added that one of the Russian reservists described being ‘neither physically nor psychologically’ prepared for the action.
Additionally, it said there is an increase in hand-to-hand combat in Ukraine.
It said that is likely because Putin keeps pushing for attacks by his infantry, even though they are short on ammunition.
The MoD update came as the founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force said his troops tightening their grip on the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut were being deprived of ammunition, and if they were forced to retreat the entire front would collapse.
‘If Wagner retreats from Bakhmut now, the whole front will collapse,’ Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video published over the weekend. ‘The situation will not be sweet for all military formations protecting Russian interests.’
Reuters could not independently verify when and where the video was recorded. The footage was published on a Telegram channel that has been disseminating Prigozhin news and has associated itself with the Wagner Group.
The video was not published on Prigozhin’s usual press service channel.
Prigozhin on Friday said that his units had ‘practically surrounded Bakhmut,’ where fighting has intensified in the past week with Russian forces attacking from nearly all sides.
But on Sunday he complained that most of the ammunition that his forces were promised by Moscow in February had not yet been shipped.
‘For now, we are trying to figure out the reason: is it just ordinary bureaucracy or a betrayal,’ Prigozhin said on his usual press service Telegram channel.
The mercenary chief regularly criticises Russia’s defence chiefs and top generals. Last month, he accused Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and others of ‘treason’ for withholding supplies of munitions to his militia.
In a nearly four-minute video published on the Wagner Orchestra Telegram channel on Saturday, Prigozhin said his troops were worried that Moscow wanted to set them up as possible scapegoats if Russia lost the war.
‘If we retreat, then we will go down in history forever as people who have taken the main step towards losing the war,’ Prigozhin said.
‘This is exactly the problem with ammunition hunger.’
Speaking seemingly from a bunker, Prigozhin said in the video that his troops would wonder whether they were being ‘set up’ for defeat by the country’s top brass or maybe even by someone ‘higher’.
The Wagner group has for months been central to Russian military effectiveness on the frontlines of Ukraine, having launched a mass recruitment drive in Russian prisons last year.
The group used human wave tactics, piling in underequipped and undertrained men to soak up Ukrainian resources before deploying better armed and trained mercenaries to break down Ukraine’s fatigued fighters.
But since the demotion of Sergei Surovikin – an army general close to Prigozhin who was previously in command of Russia’s armed forces – in December, Wagner has found itself starved of ammunition and support.
This has prompted suspicions that Russia’s military commander Valery Gerasimov and Shoigu are choking Wagner’s resources in an attempt to delegitimise them in the eyes of Putin while masking their own army’s woeful performance.
Ukrainian soldiers in a trench under Russian shelling on the frontline close to Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, March 5
Despite regularly boasting it has one of the most advanced militaries in the world before it invaded Ukraine, Russia’s true capabilities have been exposed by the year-long war in which Moscow’s armies have suffered tens of thousands of losses.
Russian failures have in part been put down to its ageing equipment coming up against more modern Western-supplied arms in the hands of Kyiv’s troops.
Thousands of Russian soviet-era tanks and other armoured vehicles have been destroyed but hand-held weapons, such as the US-made Javelin missile system, the HIMARs missile system, or by explosives dropped by drones.
Meanwhile, even some of Russia’s most advanced paratroopers who were sent into Ukraine in the early days of the war to seize key objectives have since reported being given rusty rifles, and a lack of other vital equipment.
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