Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army Tells Soldiers To Forage For Food

The Defense Ministry has suggested that its servicemen fish, hunt and gather mushrooms to survive until the federal government accumulates enough cash to pay military wage arrears, officials said.

General Nikolai Byrbyga of the ministry's department for discipline and morale said Wednesday that "collective trips of military servicemen and their family members will be organized" to allow them to gather mushrooms and berries.

The general said his directorate had issued a directive last week "advising" all deputy commanders of the military units in charge of discipline and morale to organize such trips.

The general stressed that the directive was "not an order, but just a piece of advice" that should be acted upon only in a serviceman's free time, after he had fulfilled his daily duties.

"People really need this to survive somehow ... we are trying to help," Byrbyga said, noting that most Defense Ministry servicemen have already gone for four months without pay.

Moreover, most Russian officers have not received their food compensations -- which account for some 20 percent of their overall salary packages -- for more than a year.

The directive also advised officers and their families to can their own vegetables and fruits, according to Moskovsky Komsomolets. It was not clear how they would go about doing so, since, unlike many civilians, servicemen generally do not have their own garden plots or dachas to work from.

Officers at two military units reached by phone Wednesday said they had heard about the directive but not yet seen it.

The chief of discipline and morale at an air force unit near the Moscow region town of Chkalovsky said he would not be likely to take his brothers-in-arms mushroom hunting and fishing unless officially ordered by Byrbyga's directorate.

"Just tell me who is going to pay" for the trips, demanded the officer, who asked not to be named.

He said there was barely enough gasoline at his cash-strapped unit to have commanders driven around on official business, much less for buses to take officers mushroom-hunting in their free time.

The officer said that the very idea of organizing such trips was "not bad," but had come too late.

Wives of Russian officers have for years planted vegetables on land plots their husbands rent at token prices from depressed collective farms.

Unlike officers, however, rank-and-file soldiers do not have much choice and have to eat whatever their cash-strapped unit can afford.

In one infamous case earlier this summer, news broke that hundreds of kilograms of low-quality canned meat containing recognizable animal tails had been bought by a military unit based in the Moscow region town of Monino.

Luckily for the soldiers, the meat -- which was of such poor quality that it could have been legally defined as pet food -- was intercepted by the chief military prosecutor's office before making it to their canteens

Military prosecutors forced the unit's command to exchange the meat for a batch of better quality.