Hardtack and Kolach: What They Reveal About the Russian Invasion

The “Best Before” date on a Russian ration card reads “2015”

Hardtack and Kolach, military and civilian.

Hardtack is a military ration, and kolach is a sweet Ukrainian bread served at Christmas time. Looking at the two, we can tell a lot about the current war in the Ukraine and what the leaders expected of its course of action.

Specifically, logistics can reveal something about motives and purpose.

If an army is building up its supply of food, it is preparing for a long war. An army marches on its stomach, as Napoleon said.

The Russians did not build up their version of ‘hardtack’, while the Ukrainians continued in innocence to eat Kolach.

The Russians went to war but were not prepared for war, and the Ukrainians were caught totally off-guard. That the Ukrainians had no build-up of military rations means that the Russian accusation that they were murdering their fellow Russians is complete nonsense. You don’t embark on a genocide without the expectation of a long and punishing war.

Further, what does a glimpse into the food locker of a Russian soldier reveal about the expectations that Russian leaders had for this war?

The leaders were preparing for a short war. They were preparing to meet an enemy of amateurs, because that is how the Russians themselves prepared.

Hardtack, for example, is a serious food for serious soldiers. It has been long superseded today by other rations, but they too have the characteristics of hardtack: long-lasting food that will store forever.

The other day for example my son linked me to a video about a guy eating hardtack from the American Civil War! It’s incredible that it should still be around. It’s been gathering mold for about 160 years. But, hardtack being hardtack, the guy was able to eat it. He said it tasted a bit like vinegar. Probably the accumulated urine of countless bugs.

Mind you, hardtack lives up (down) to its name. It’s hard to eat. Literally. It is not one of your soft fluffy muffins. It is made by mixing flour and water together (sometimes with a bit of salt, though salt was rather expensive back in Civil War days), and baking it until it became hard like a bathroom tile. To eat it, the process was reversed, in a sense: the hardtack was often dunked in some kind of liquid like brine, or soup of coffee, or fried up with a skillet meal. If you try to eat the hardtack biscuit plain, you will need a good dental plan.

My son is busy making me some so I can try it. He’s a great baker, and is a military guy who is curious about his predecessors. I’ll report back on it later.

Anyway, the Russians use a ration called the “24-Hour Individual Food Ration” that has seven varieties. It is their version of MRE — Meal, Ready-to-Eat.

Russian MREs usually contain assorted canned meat and vegetables, barley porridge, boiled buckwheat, rice with beef, crackers, sausage stuffing, liver pate, stewed beef and other things like multivitamins.

A YouTuber who tried some Russian MREs said he “really liked” the one that consisted of meatballs in tomato sauce, rice and ground beef with carrots and peas, and a beef stew with potatoes. It also came with crackers, canned pork fat, a cheese spread, some sort of veggie spread that Hong likened to baby food, chocolate, apple sauce, a liverwurst spread, fruit-flavored drinks, and coffee.

Sounds like the Russian army is well prepared. They must have had this well stocked up and issued to the army.

But…

The rations that were issued to the Russian troops invading Ukraine were seven years out of date.

The “best consume before” date was 2015. The numbers stamped on the Form, 10 04 13 and 10 02 15, indicated the date the food was made and the date it should be consumed by.

A military person would say that there is no such things as an expired ration. A soldier would look on botulism as a flavor enhancer.

But the soldier in the photo with his finger on the date entry, had a different take. He said to his mother “look what are they doing, they send you to die on a foreign soil for nothing and they don’t even give you normal food”.

So Russia was ready, but not ready. It seems that the Russia’s army was just a ‘Potemkin Army” — an army with just enough of a capability to create the illusion that much more lay behind it.

The troops that went into Ukraine were seen many times breaking into grocery stores for food. They knocked on doors asking for food.

The same thing occurred with their supply of fuel. Convoys ran out of gas and were abandoned on the road. Often the Russian soldiers would poke holes in the gas tanks themselves, to have an excuse to walk away. Ukrainian farmers towed the tanks away with tractors.

As the convoys jammed the roads, the Russians sent units ahead to build bridges. The Russian bridging units have been unable to get through the congestion to build new infrastructure.

Russia’s other war equipment is also dated. It’s mostly decades-old Soviet era machinery with minor upgrades. But the trucks, for example, weren’t stored properly, so their tires rotted at the bottom. Trucks got flats and, again, were abandoned.

The supply chain, as evident in this war, is sorely lacking. It is obvious that a command structure of yes-men were eager to please Putin, and no one questioned whether the army could do the job. The point is especially moot if the commander-in-chief has convinced himself that the war will be a walk-over.

This will get worse for the Russians.

The sanctions that are hitting Russia will take full effect in two to three weeks. That is when stocks of consumer goods will run down, new supplies will fail to arrive, and spending all those weightless roubles will get a lot harder.

And if the Russians think that occupying the Ukraine will end the sanctions, they will be sadly disappointed. The sanctions will go on until the Russians leave…however many years that will take.

It has been said that what is happening in Ukraine is a tragedy; what will happen in Russia, is a catastrophe.

Today, the citizens of Russia are largely behind Putin; they believe what they can see on their state news channels. But as time moves on, and Russia continues to be in a darkening jail of its own making, the rumours will grow, and the whispers will carry knives.

Russia’s invasion was not well planned, and not thought through. It was based on Putin’s belief that he only had to kick in the door, and the whole structure would come tumbling down.

There was another man who believed that. “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.” Hitler said that after the Battle of Kiev in 1941; he saw the Soviet Union as militarily weak and ripe for immediate conquest.

It didn’t work out for him.

Ukraine will be a similar disaster for the Russians, though not from continuous battle. The Ukraine will simply refuse to give up its dream of independence, buoyed by Western support in terms of boycotts and sanctions.

Logistics — hardtack and kulach — are like fortune cards. They can tell the future, if you read them right.

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Barry Gander

I'm a Canadian from Connecticut, so 2 strikes against me. I'm a top writer in 5 fields, & I love finding the Meaning under the passing headlines.