As previously reported by SOFREP, Russia had asked China to supply it with military equipment and economic aid as they were reportedly feeling the effects of the economic sanctions from the West. New information has now revealed that Moscow had asked China for food to feed their starving Russian troops in Ukraine.

According to the two US officials who spoke to CNN about the request, Russia had asked for prepackaged, non-perishable military food known as “meal, ready-to-eat,” otherwise known as MREs, as they had been running low on food ever since the invasion began.

On March 7, SOFREP obtained information that the Russian forces had been sent to Ukraine with expired MREs. A video showing Ukrainian soldiers exploring the contents of a destroyed Russian fighting vehicle revealed that the MREs had been made in October 2013 and had expired in October 2015, making it seven years past its expiration date.

A possible reason for Russia’s ill-preparation for the invasion was that it expected Ukraine to fold immediately upon the start of the invasion. They did not anticipate the need for additional food supplies as they believed it would end very quickly. However, this was not the case as Ukraine had stalemated the more powerful Russian army at their own game with smart fighting across all fronts.

The most likely cause of the expired rations being sent to their troops is theft.  Corruption is rampant in the Russian army.  Pay is low and the opportunities to steal are met with ready customers on the black market. The question as to why a Russian supply unit would keep rations expired 7 years in its warehouses rather than discard them may be very simple. A supply unit has to keep a certain number of rations on hand and receives shipments to keep that stock at the required levels.  This resupply could be prompted by the commander reporting he has expired rations that have to be thrown away and replaced.  When he receives the new shipment, he sells the new rations on the black market and puts the expired rations in the larger cardboard container the new rations came in.  That large box says the rations are currently fresh but the rations inside are actually old and expired.  When his unit is inspected by headquarters, on paper it looks like he has a full supply of fresh rations in his warehouses, but the boxes are mostly full of expired rations.

While food may not seem like a big deal to those uninformed about the logistics of war, food may be more important than ammunition to an army. The most decisive factor in the seeming inertia of the Russian advance maybe its supply problems.  The further it gets from its bases, the more supplies it needs,(especially fuel) and the harder it gets to move them up.  Remember that the truck, train, or aircraft bringing an army supplies has to make a round trip that gets longer and longer the further the army advances.  New vehicles, rolling stock, and aircraft have to be fed into the supply system to make up for the ever-increasing distance from the base of supply. During the Allied advance through France in WWII, whole U.S. armies went over to static defense because of a lack of food, fuel, and ammunition. During the second Gulf War, the U.S. drive on Baghdad stalled for 48 hours because advancing armored columns had outrun their supply vehicles bringing them food, fuel, and ammunition.

Russian Troops Looting Ukrainians For Food

Several reports of Russian soldiers looting civilian establishments have been appearing on social media. People arriving from Russian-controlled areas described how hungry and undisciplined the Russian troops were. They raided shops, supermarkets, and people’s homes for food and valuables.

“They just brazenly come in, without any shame, and take whatever they want,” said 64-year-old Valentyna Khodus to WSJ, who shared how Russian soldiers went door to door to pillage homes in their small village of Myrne.

Another report by The Guardian revealed that Russian soldiers took over a farm in Kherson, which was now under Russian control. Dairy farmer Andrii Pastushenko reported that Russian soldiers came to his farm to set up a base and stated that it was “nationalizing” the farm and proceeded to take two cars and food from them without paying.

The aforementioned request raises questions about the preparations made by Moscow for the invasion and possible logistic and supply issues that some claim to be the issue behind Russia’s laggard advance into Ukraine. This, combined with bad weather, ill-planned advances, and allegedly lying to their troops about the true nature of their advance, made the invasion all the more difficult for the Russians. This led to Russian generals being sent to the frontlines to improve morale and jumpstart the invasion once more, leaving 4 Russian generals dead in three weeks of fighting.

According to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, a hundred percent of Russian troops mustered for the invasion were already inside Ukrainian territory. However, said forces were facing supply shortages and stiff resistance from the Ukrainian Armed forces.

“We do believe… that they are having morale problems. They are having supply problems. They are having fuel problems. They’re having food problems. They are meeting a very stiff and determined Ukrainian resistance,” Kirby said.

One official said that the request came after the invasion started last February 24. That same official also claimed that the Chinese government had responded but did not give further details regarding the nature of the response. Both Russia and China had denied that the requests were ever made.

Several sources have said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has not gone according to plan despite Putin’s claim that they were on schedule and that the so-called ‘special military operation’ was shaping up to be a success.

“And we still maintain that they are several days behind what they probably thought they were going to be in terms of their progress,” Kirby added.

What will happen to China if it helps Russia?

The possibility of China aiding Russia in its invasion of Ukraine will prove to be a significant turning point of the crisis. Depending on China’s response, this could lead to Russia’s troops being bolstered with renewed morale as they wouldn’t be starving anymore.

However, China granting support to Russia will put itself at risk of receiving the same harsh sanctions the Kremlin got from the West.

“To do so (provide support) means China would open itself to substantial sanctions and make itself a pariah; to refuse would keep open the possibility of at least selective cooperation with US and West,” wrote Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass on Twitter.

The potential of economic downfall associated with backing the Kremlin is likely in the mind of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is expected to secure his third term during the Chinese Communist Party’s (CPP) 20th National Congress.

The Chinese government will also be cautious about triggering such harsh sanctions from the West in a period of historically slow economic growth for the past three decades.

News of said request from Moscow came before White House National Security Adviser James Sullivan, and Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi met in Rome. It could be remembered that Sullivan had directly told Yang that there would be consequences if it were to help Russia during their meeting.

When Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian was asked about the request, he stated that the US was being malicious in spreading the disinformation. 

“China’s position on the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear, and we have been playing a constructive role in promoting peace talks. It is imperative for all parties to exercise restraint and cool down the tension, rather than adding fuel to the fire; it’s important to push for a diplomatic solution, rather than further escalating the situation,” said Zhao.

A group of China experts called for the White House to maintain diplomatic ties with Beijing and tell China that supporting Russia would ultimately hamper its long-term goals.

“By using diplomatic outreach to Beijing… the US will be able to lay the groundwork for more effective pressure against China if Xi more openly supports [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s brutal aggression,” wrote the group that was assembled by UC San Diego’s 21st Century China Center and Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations.

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