If you are a Russian soldier, you cannot rely on body armor to protect you. Because there is a good chance that it is either inadequate, missing or even, due to chronic corruption, a replica made for Airsoft play — paintball wargaming — with no actual bullet resistance.
Back in 2017 the Russian army proudly announced that it had received 200,000 sets of advanced Ratnik-2 (“Warrior-2”) body armor, and that by 2020 deliveries had reached over 300,000 sets, enough for the entire force. Ratnik-2 is a modern design, similar to Western body armor. The main protective garment is the 6B45 vest with Aramid soft armor (similar to Kevlar) providing protection against low-velocity bullets and shrapnel, and Granit ceramic plate inserts to stop high-velocity rifle bullets in vital areas. But this is not the armor being seen in Ukraine.
Ratnik 6B45 bulletproof vest — essential equipment for Russian soldiers but the real thing is in ... [+] short supply leading to cheap replicas being issued
Soldiers in the Russian-backed LNR and DNR units are wearing older 6B23 body armor which Ratnik superseded; the older version transmits too much blunt trauma to the wearer (leading to broken ribs or internal injuries). Soldiers mobilized from occupied Crimea in the 810th Separate Guard Brigade fared even worse, and were issued old bulletproof vests with holes which they tried to repair with insulating tape.
“Where is the regular armor with a high degree of protection?” complained one Crimean on Telegram social media. “At least do something for the people who are going to defend your life!”
What happens to the armor they are supposed to get? In 2021, a Russian captain was convicted of stealing at least 56 sets of body armor, which can easily be sold on Avito, a Russian competitor to eBay. According to one news report, new equipment is sold online and soldiers are routinely issued with secondhand uniforms and other gear. A year ago a 6B45 protective vest was worth as much as $250 when sold online.
According to the UK’s Defence Intelligence, some new conscripts are now being forced to buy their own body armor. Except that, thanks to the inevitable law of supply and demand, prices have now gone up and the same protective vest will now cost you $640 online. Which increases the incentive for anyone in the supply chain to steal them.
The same problems of theft and substitution apply to the Granit plates. Ukrainian soldiers have been bemused to find that instead of the high-tech ceramics, captured body armor is fitted with cheap steel plates. A Twitter post in August from the 95th Air Assault Brigade shows Ukrainian soldiers testing these plates: an AK-74 round goes clean through two stacked together.
Some armies do use steel inserts in body armor, as they are much less expensive than ceramics, but these are rugged and made of high-grade steel. The Russian ones seem to be much thinner and a video on Twitter shows a Ukrainian soldier contemptuously bending one in half.
The plates may be makeshift substitutes because the real thing is not available, or soldiers may have been told that they were getting genuine protection. The fake plates are as futile as the ‘cope cages’ welded to the turrets of Russian tanks and which proved ineffetive against the top-attack weapons like Javelin they were supposed to stop.
Perhaps the worst case of fake armor is a video this week of a Russian soldier complaining about his newly issued “super bulletproof vest” which he says is an Airsoft replica. Many Russian companies make these and they are perfect copies of an actual Ratnik 6B45 at a fraction of the cost. They appear identical and have the same fit and attachments for ammunition pouches and other gear. The big difference, as the makers point out, is that “The vest is designed only for airsoft, cosplay and collectors and is not intended for ballistic protection.”
"Maybe they fight with Airsoft guns in Ukraine," says the soldier sarcastically.
Clearly it is cheaper to supply troops with replicas than the real thing. Whatever happened to those 300,000 sets of body armor? You might ask the same about the 1.5 million army uniforms which Russian media recently reported missing.
“I still don’t understand where 1.5 million sets [of uniform], which had been kept at personnel reception points, ended up,” Lt. Gen. Andrey Gurulev, MP for Zabaykalsky region, says in Novaya Gazeta.“Where did they disappear to? No one can explain this to me in any way at all anywhere!”
Quite likely such items only ever existed on paper, on bills and inventories. Like Russia’s supposed fleet of thousands of battle-ready modern tanks held in storage, when they were needed, they were not there.
The same problems that apply to body armor also affect the supply of night vision equipment, communications gear and other military essentials that can be quietly sold off on Avito. All of these are now in short supply on the front line. Those 300,000 new conscripts that Putin hopes to rush to the front line may be the worst-equipped “modern” army in the world.
And given the reported lack of cold weather gear as well, they may not even survive long enough for body armor to be a problem.