The main challenge facing the Russian army after nearly seven months of war seems set to remain fundamental: manpower.
The “partial mobilization” announced Wednesday by President Vladimir Putin aims to add 300,000 additional reservists to the front, according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, mainly those with some military experience. It comes after the Kremlin had already aimed to boost its military machine to 1.15 million last month, the Pentagon said.
But those 300,000 are unlikely to have any real 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.
“In reality, most of these guys haven’t had any recent training, and an entry of 300,000 is incredibly high,” he said. “Most Russian soldiers now receive most of their training in the units, but it’s hard to imagine the units that are in Ukraine being in any state to train recruits.”
“The administrative side of adding new territory takes time, mobilizing and integrating newly mobilized troops takes time.”
Ekaterina Schulman said
Ukraine had nearly 200,000 soldiers on active duty at the start of the war, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British research institute in London. Kyiv has reinforced this number with new recruits and volunteers trained in Ukraine and in partner countries, such as Poland and the United Kingdom.
Russia had around 1 million active personnel initially, according to the institute’s estimates, although it did not devote all of its troops to Ukraine.
Air Force Brigadier. Pentagon press secretary Gen. Pat Ryder said Thursday that Putin’s mobilization appeared to reveal that the Russian military was struggling with personnel shortages in Ukraine and that this could further exacerbate “command and control, the logistics, sustainment and, above all, the morale problems that we have seen Russian forces in Ukraine experience.
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 the harsh winter months. of Ukraine, when the front lines could freeze until spring.
“In many ways it’s just bad after bad,” Edmonds said.
An exhausted army
The Russian military has undermined much of its training infrastructure to sustain a war that has gone wrong for it in many ways, Edmonds and retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian said. The officer stock also suffered significant losses. Both of these made it difficult to identify how new additions to the Russian military might be trained or used effectively in this war.
The Kremlin doesn’t have a reserve army to rely on like 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 which it exercises one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer and several months before deployment, he said.
“Russians don’t do that,” Cancian said. “After serving in the military – and that has been true for decades – your name is on the list, but you don’t really do any training. So maybe you were fired five years ago and now you’re called up all of a sudden.
Analysts and current officials have also noted a tougher ecosystem for Russian recruiters. They cited a report by OVD-Info, a Russian human rights group, which claimed anti-war protesters recently arrested in Moscow had been conscripted into the army. Many also noted a viral video of the Wagner Group, a group of Russian mercenaries, recruiting prisoners as new soldiers for the Ukrainian front.
Forcing dissidents and reluctant Russians into the military would likely exacerbate what are widely seen as deep morale problems within the ranks. This week the Duma, Russia’s parliament, passed a law that would further punish deserters and those who refuse to fight.
Adding large numbers of poorly trained and unmotivated soldiers wouldn’t provide much beyond “cannon fodder”, said Glen Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation, a think tank on safety dedicated to Russian and Eurasian study in Washington.
“Sticking these guys to the front line shows there’s no military unit cohesion, and that’s not the point,” he said.
“New territory takes time”
The “partial mobilization” comes after the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive broke through Russian lines outside Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second most populous city. They then pushed deeper into the disputed Russian proxy-controlled Donbass region, forcing Kremlin units to retreat quickly, losing soldiers and military equipment.
Officials of the Russian-occupied regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya have since announced a referendum on joining Russia as the Ukrainian offensive continues.
However, the military support of mobilization and the veneer of homeland security that annexation could provide will likely take some time. Time seems to be the Kremlin’s most bitter enemy, Ekaterina Schulman, a Russian political scientist and Putin critic living in Germany, told her Telegram channel.
“The administrative side of adding new territory takes time, mobilizing and integrating newly mobilized troops takes time, and they assume the opposing side is going to stop and wait, obviously out of respect for the Russian legislative process,” she said with a touch of sarcasm.
Will the West face the escalation of Russia?
While the Russian military is on its hind legs, risks remain for Ukraine. Among them is his allies’ willingness to arm and continue to support Kyiv, but it seems the immediate aftermath of Putin’s announcement has brought good news.
Since the start of the Russian invasion in February, the United States has pledged approximately $25 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Kyiv, and the Biden administration has already requested additional funding to provide military aid to Kyiv. Ukraine until 2023. Many partner countries sent military packages as well.
Meanwhile, Russia is under pressure from the West. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told NBC News that he met with all foreign ministers of European Union member states attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday to discuss new sanctions against Russia and new military aid to Ukraine in an effort “to raise the price for the aggressor.
Ukraine is focusing on strengthening its missile and air defense capabilities in talks with partner countries, said former Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Leonid Polyakov, who now works for a think tank based in Kyiv and who advises Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy. This would help them retain the territory they have taken over. Second, he said, they still need more artillery and ammunition where they remain underarmed by Russia.
However, any delay or crack in Western unity could work in the Kremlin’s favor, some said. This is all the more worrying as the winter could be particularly costly for European energy prices.
Ukrainians seem to be keeping their eyes clear on this escalating 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 this support will wane in the coming months remain high in Kyiv and among those on NATO’s eastern flank, especially as Putin’s “partial mobilization” will at least lead to the war dragging on and on. further threaten the West.
“I don’t think it will make a dramatic difference,” Reinsalu said, referring to the mobilization. “But of course, this is a major escalation by the Russian Federation in both directions: towards Ukraine and the Western community, and also towards its own society.”