The Russian President wants to overcome fundamental structural problems through partial mobilization in the Russian war of aggression. However, the US Institute for the Study of War does not see a new chance for Putin in the partial Russian mobilization.

On September 21, Putin ordered partial mobilization to increase Russia’s combat capability again. According to the US Institute for the Study of War (ISW), this is happening in an inefficient manner and with high social and political costs. The well-known US think tank writes that the partial mobilization does not represent a quick solution to Putin’s problems.

According to the ISW analysis, he must correct the fundamental shortcomings in the Russian military’s personnel and equipment system rather than just rushing the troops onto the battlefield. Russia’s structural problems would reach far into the past.

According to the ISW, since 2008 the Russian armed forces have not created conditions for effective large-scale mobilization and have not built up reserve forces that would be necessary for short-term mobilization with immediate effect. According to the ISW, there have been “unsolved problems” in the Russian mobilization concept for a long time. Putin now sees himself confronted with these problems.

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According to the ISW, this was different in the past: Russian and Soviet military policy from 1874 to 2008 was aimed at supporting the mobilization of the entire population for a large-scale war. According to the ISW analysis, through compulsory military service and a minimum service period of two years, Moscow always wanted to ensure that all men of military age were sufficiently trained so that they could still be deployed after their active service period had expired.

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With the financial crisis of 2008, Russian military policy changed fundamentally, and Moscow tried to switch to a volunteer army. To cut costs, Putin instructed then-Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to transform the Russian military to a professional model and reform it. One of these austerity measures was the reduction of compulsory military service to 18 months in 2007 and then to one year in 2008.

The Russian military ultimately opted for a mixed model with one-year conscripts and professional soldiers. According to the ISW, the prioritization of building up a professional soldier force and the deprioritization of military service have led to the bureaucratic structures required for mobilization being undermined.

Because the demanding maintenance of the bureaucratic infrastructure, which is necessary for the implementation of a large-scale call-up of reservists, has received too little attention in the last 15 years.

In addition, Putin “emptied” the pool of available reservists before the most recent partial mobilization. After all, Putin has already made at least four mobilization attempts in the past year, according to the US experts. The first mobilization had already started in autumn 2021 with the goal of recruiting 100,000 volunteers – but by the Russian invasion in February the Russians had only achieved a fraction of the goal.

Shortly before the start of the Russian war of aggression, Putin tried to mobilize: the Russian armed forces had carried out an involuntary mobilization of their regular reserves in preparation for the invasion.

According to the ISW, the invasion was followed by a third, smaller wave of mobilization: Thousands of reservists would have been called up to compensate for Russian losses in early March 2022. In June 2022, Putin then launched the fourth attempt to mobilize his people for the war. For example, the Kremlin instructed all Russian administrative units at provincial level to each set up a “volunteer battalion” and to pay recruitment and combat bonuses from their own budgets.

According to the analysis, the recent partial mobilization would be based mainly on the Russians, who would not have joined the “volunteer battalion”. In this way, Putin would primarily oblige the Russians who have not wanted to fight so far. Furthermore, the reservists could also be less qualified.

At the same time, the implementation of voluntary and involuntary mobilization measures would overwhelm the responsible bureaucrats, writes the ISW. Nonetheless, the enlistment of involuntary reservists before and after the invasion may have helped military commissars practice general reservist enlistment procedures.

According to the US institute, the current partial mobilization also highlights the structural tensions in the Russian military system. These would stem from the fact that the Department of Defense appears to share responsibility for mobilization with local government officials.

For example, the mobilization decree signed by Putin on September 21 states that the Defense Ministry sets quotas and deadlines for mobilizing reservists by region, but military commissars are clearly responsible for actually fulfilling those quotas. However, it is unclear whether the possibility of being exempted from being drafted into the reserve is binding for the military commissars.

Above all, the bureaucratic confusion in the mobilization system and the failure to prepare its people for war fueled the protests against the mobilization. After all, Putin has made no effort to prepare his people for war, and certainly not for involuntary mobilization.

Other factors, which had previously driven the mobilization of the population in previous Russian wars, are also not present in this war of aggression. After all, there are no Ukrainian or NATO troops on Russian soil.

Nevertheless, Russia will succeed in mobilizing reservists for the war: “The process will be ugly, the quality of the reservists will be poor and their motivation to fight will probably be even worse,” writes the ISW. Although Russia can expect a net increase in combat capability from partial mobilization, US experts do not expect this to affect the course of the war in 2022.