The main challenge facing the Russian military after nearly seven months looks set to remain basic: manpower.
The “partial mobilization” President Vladimir Putin launched on Wednesday is aimed at adding an additional 300,000 reservists to the front, according to Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, mainly those with some kind of military experience. This comes after the Kremlin had already aimed to increase its military machine to 1.15 million last month, the Pentagon said.
But it’s unlikely that nearly all of the 300,000 will have true combat experience or training, or get it once in the field, said Jeff Edmonds, who served as National Security Council director for Russia in the Obama administration.
“Realistically, most of these guys haven’t had any recent training, and an entry of 300,000 is unbelievably high,” he said. “Most Russian soldiers get most of their training in the units now, but it’s hard to imagine that the units that are in Ukraine are in any state to train recruits.”
“The administrative part of adding new territories takes time, mobilizing and integrating newly mobilized troops takes time.”
Ekaterina Schulman said
Ukraine had nearly 200,000 active-duty soldiers at the start of the war, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British research institute in London. Kyiv bolstered that number with new recruits and volunteers being trained in Ukraine and in partner countries such as Poland and the UK.
Russia had about 1 million active personnel at the start, according to estimates by the institute, though it did not commit all of its troops to Ukraine.
Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said Thursday that Putin’s mobilization seemed to expose that the Russian military was struggling with a manpower shortage in Ukraine and that this could further exacerbate “command”. and control, the logistics, the sustainment, and, most importantly, the morale problems that we have seen Russian forces experience in Ukraine.”
Ryder said “it would take time for Russia to train, prepare and equip these forces,” with estimates ranging from weeks to months, meaning these reinforcements could arrive closer to Ukraine’s bitter winter months, when front could freeze until spring.
“In many ways, this is bad after bad,” Edmonds said.
a depleted army
The Russian military has exhausted much of its training infrastructure to support a war that has gone disastrously wrong in many ways, Edmonds and retired Navy Col. Mark Cancian said. The officer stock has also seen significant casualties. Both have made it difficult to identify how new additions to the Russian military could be effectively trained or used in this war.
The Kremlin doesn’t have a reserve army to fall back on the way the United States does, said Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. The United States maintains a reserve force that puts it through military exercises one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer and several months before deployment, he said.
“The Russians don’t do that,” Cancian said. “After serving in the military, and this has been the case for decades, your name is on the list, but you don’t actually do any training. So you may have been discharged five years ago and now you’re suddenly called up.”
Analysts and current officials also noted a tougher ecosystem for Russian recruiters. They cited a report by OVD-Info, a Russian human rights group, which claimed that anti-war protesters recently arrested in Moscow were conscripted for military service. Many also noted a viral video of the Wagner Group, a team of Russian mercenaries, recruiting prisoners as new soldiers for the Ukrainian front.
Forcing dissidents and unwilling Russians into the military would likely exacerbate what are believed to be deep problems with morale within the base. This week, the Duma, Russia’s parliament, passed legislation that would further punish deserters and those who refuse to fight.
Adding a host of poorly trained and unmotivated soldiers would not provide much more than “cannon fodder,” said Glen Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation, a security think tank dedicated to the study of Russia and Eurasia in Washington.
“Keeping these guys on the front lines shows there is no military unit cohesion, and that’s not the point,” he said.
‘New territory takes time’
The “partial mobilization” comes after Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive broke through Russian lines on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second most populous city. They then pushed deeper into the disputed Russian proxy-controlled Donbas region, forcing Kremlin units to retreat rapidly, losing soldiers and military equipment.
Officials in the Russian-occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya have since announced a referendum on joining Russia as Ukraine’s offensive continues.
However, the military support of the mobilization and the appearance of territorial security that annexation could provide is likely to take time. Time seems to be the Kremlin’s sworn enemy, Ekaterina Schulman, a Russian political scientist and Putin critic who lives in Germany, said on her Telegram channel.
“The administrative part of adding new territory takes time, mobilizing and integrating newly mobilized troops takes time, and they are assuming that the opposing side will stop and wait, evidently out of respect for the Russian legislative process,” he said with a touch of sarcasm.
Will the West stand up to Russia’s escalation?
While Russia’s military is on the defensive, risks remain for Ukraine. Among them is the willingness of his allies to arm themselves and continue to support Kyiv, but it seems that the immediate fallout from Putin’s announcement brought good news.
Since the Russian invasion began in February, the United States has pledged about $25 billion in military and humanitarian aid to kyiv, and the Biden administration has already requested additional funds to provide military aid to Ukraine through 2023. Many partner countries have sent packages military as well.
Meanwhile, Russia is under pressure from the West. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told NBC News that he met Wednesday with all foreign ministers of European Union member states attending the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss new sanctions against Russia and new military aid to Ukraine in an effort to “raise the price for the aggressor.”
Ukraine is focused on bolstering its missile and air defense capabilities in talks with partner countries, said Ukraine’s former Deputy Defense Minister Leonid Polyakov, who now works for a Kyiv-based think tank that advises Ukraine’s President Volodomyr. Zelenskyy. That would help them hold on to the territory they have retaken. Second, he said, they still need more artillery pieces and ammunition where Russia outguns them.
However, any delay or crack in western unity could work in the Kremlin’s favor, some said. This is especially worrying as winter could be particularly costly for energy prices in Europe.
Ukrainians appear clear-eyed on that festering issue, which Zelenskyy said Putin was trying to use as a cudgel to soften Western support in a recent warning to his European allies.
Fears that support may falter in the coming months remain high in Kyiv and among those on NATO’s eastern flank, particularly as Putin’s “partial mobilization” will at least make the war drag on and threaten even more. to the West.
“I don’t think it will make a dramatic difference,” Reinsalu said, referring to the mobilization. “But of course it is a big escalation of the Russian Federation in both directions: towards Ukraine and the Western community, and also towards its own society.”