Putin is increasing the Russian army, but where are the new forces supposed to come from? The Kremlin ruler is still reluctant to extend military service. A general mobilization is also out of the question. He has only one choice.
With a decree last week, Putin ordered the target strength of the Russian armed forces to be increased from the current 1.01 to 1.15 million soldiers. This is a required increase of 137,000 troops. However, if one considers that the actual strength, i.e. the actual number of troops, was probably only 850,000 soldiers before the war, the necessary increase in soldiers to the new target strength would be considerably larger. But how is the new target strength to be achieved?
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First of all, exemptions from conscription will certainly be significantly reduced. Currently, Russian males aged 18-27 are required to serve one year of military service. Many young men were able to evade recruitment through university studies or bribery. But there are still no details of intended changes.
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It is also surprising that Putin did not extend military service to two years, as was the case 15 years ago. Apparently the Russian government feared the political shock effects of such a measure.
However, it will not be possible to achieve the new target strength through tougher recruiting practices for conscripts. This also has to do with the fact that for some time now and for the time being only low-birth cohorts have been available in Russia. The birth rate has fallen drastically since 1987, slowly improving from 2002, only to fall again in recent years. Only in 2013 and 2014 has Russia’s birth rate been higher than its death rate since 1992.
Gerhard Mangott is a professor of political science with a special focus on international relations and security in the post-Soviet space. He teaches at the Institute for Political Science in Innsbruck and is a lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna
The new target strength of the Russian army can therefore only be achieved if significantly more contract soldiers (kontraktniki) are hired. There is currently only sluggish success in this regard. Without a significant increase in the pay of professional soldiers, this approach will not work either. The fact that prison inmates are now apparently being lured into taking part in the fighting in Ukraine shows how serious Russia’s recruitment problems are.
In any case, Putin’s decree is an indicator that the Russian leadership expects a long-lasting military conflict in Ukraine. The increase in personnel would not be necessary if the war were decided quickly (with a victory on either side) and the number of Russian soldiers killed and wounded could be limited. But that is obviously not the case.
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The actual strength of the Russian army has certainly decreased substantially in the past six months. Greater discipline in recruiting conscript men did not change this, as conscripts cannot legally be deployed outside Russian territory. A larger Russian army would therefore only slowly and not particularly strongly affect their combat effectiveness in Ukraine. The extent of the increased combat power thus depends on whether more contract soldiers can be recruited and the Russian practice of mobilizing contract soldiers primarily in the economically weak, peripheral regions ends.
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The big cities of Moscow and Petersburg have so far been spared. Things can’t go on like this, even if the Russian leadership is taking a risk, because it is precisely in the urban population that there is the greatest resentment about the war. Many fallen soldiers from urban centers would probably reinforce this rejection of the war significantly. A resentment that could then lead to open manifestations of rejection of the war.
A significant strengthening of the Russian combat power could only be achieved by a general mobilization. According to various sources, Russia has between 1.5 and 2 million reservists. For this to happen, a state of war would have to be legally declared. Putin has shied away from this for political reasons and this will probably remain the case for the foreseeable future.