Vladimir Putin announced the partial mobilization on Wednesday: 300,000 reservists are to go to the front. The recruitment of the Russian military made the measure necessary.
Russian President Putin announced on state television on Wednesday morning that more than 300,000 reservists would be partially mobilized. He therefore shuns the general mobilization feared by some. He stated that “only citizens who are currently in reserve will be called up for military service, primarily those who have served in the ranks of the armed forces and have certain military expertise and relevant experience”. Putin and his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, had once again made it clear that the intention was by no means to mobilize all Russian men of military age.
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Months ago, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) announced concerns as to whether partial mobilization would noticeably increase the effectiveness of the Russian armed forces. Replacing experienced, active-duty soldiers with reservists “who have been without military training for years is unlikely to dramatically increase Russia’s combat capability,” the ISW experts note. In particular, the Russian military lacks the equipment and suitable trainers to make soldiers who are not battle-hardened operational.
In a major analysis in the summer, the Swedish Defense Research Institute attested to the Russian military’s significant shortcomings: “The weak performance of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine surprised military analysts. Shortcomings include logistical glitches, poor equipment and morale, abysmal communications and muddled command and control structures, and poor performance of Russia’s aerospace forces, air defenses and cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.”
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In addition to the sometimes desolate condition of the equipment of the Russian military, it is in particular the formation of the soldiers that the researchers assess critically: “Russia seems to have fewer trained, combat-ready soldiers than most observers assumed before the war. At the end of 2020, the Russian peacetime armed forces numbered about 900,000 soldiers, with an army strength of 280,000 including conscripts.”
The Institute further stated: “The latter figure – representing the main ground forces – is most relevant to Ukraine’s requirements. Conscripts are not favored for combat use. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, as of March 2020, the Russian armed forces had a total of 225,000 conscripts versus 405,000 contract soldiers. Assuming that this ratio roughly applies to ground forces, approximately 160,000 combat-ready contract soldiers would have been available for deployment in Ukraine.”
In its own analysis, the US Department of Defense put the number of armed forces ready for the invasion of Ukraine at around 200,000 soldiers. However, those figures also include administrators and conscripts assigned to troops in Crimea and the Russian regions bordering Ukraine, National Guard personnel, and the two separatist army corps in Donbass.
In May of this year, Ukrainian sources announced that Russia was unable to compensate for what was then an estimated 23,800 soldiers killed in action. Then, in August, the Ukrainian military released new figures that said 45,200 Russian soldiers had been injured or killed since the Russian war of aggression began. These numbers cannot be verified exactly.
In August, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made combative statements about the number of Russian casualties. However, he cited a far higher number of Russian soldiers killed: “If nearly 43,000 dead Russian soldiers don’t convince the Russian leadership that they need to find a way out of the war, then more fighting needs to be done, more results need to be achieved to convince .”
It should be noted that the figures are estimates. Both the Ukrainian and the Russian side are keen to minimize their own losses and to put the number of wounded or dead soldiers on the other side as high as possible.
However, experts doubt that the deployment of almost 300,000 Russian reservists will help Putin on the battlefield. In its analysis of the Russian armed forces, the American think tank ISW came to the conclusion that the deployment of operational combat units “cannot be achieved overnight”.
Politicians and military strategists are also not of the opinion that deploying reservists can compensate for fallen Russian soldiers. The former Russian Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milow was critical of this on Twitter: “There are no more qualified personnel.”
Mick Ryan, Australian military strategist and retired Major General, shares Milow’s assessment. The Russian military must “increase its manpower if they only want to hold the territory they have already conquered.” In addition, not only have they lost a large number of dead and wounded, but also further losses through accidents and psychological problems.
Ryan does not believe that the use of the reservists will be decisive for the war: “The forces called up are not sufficient to make a decisive contribution or to change the outcome of the war. Ukraine has mobilized many more personnel. This is more about rotation and replacements than building a huge new offensive capability for Russia.”
The military expert continues: “All of this tells us a few things. First, Putin and his military secretly accept that they could lose this war. The personnel and industrial measures described in the speech are a clear indication of this. Second, Putin is not backing down from this war. He took this risky step in hopes of prolonging the war and weakening Western support for Ukraine.”