Vladimir Putin has insisted that he would not send conscripts to war. But reality looks different. The troops are in danger of being worn out, supplies are urgently needed. Russia bypasses Putin’s word with a simple trick and brings ruin to the families of the young recruits.
Actually, Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to celebrate his victory in the war of aggression against Ukraine on May 9th. But the planned blitzkrieg turned into a war of attrition. Thousands of soldiers have died on both sides, and tens of thousands of fighters have been injured. The Kremlin has a supply problem.
Conscription is mandatory in Russia: every young Russian between the ages of 18 and 27 has to serve in the military for a year, with rare exceptions. 134,500 conscripts were last called up at the end of March. At the beginning of the war, however, Putin repeatedly asserted that he would not send any conscripts into the war.
Marina’s sons (editor’s note: name changed) were also drafted a few weeks before the start of the war, she tells the British BBC. She previously told the two “to serve their homeland.” When the war began, contact with her children broke off. Doubts arose in Marina. Were her sons sent to war? The superiors said they were in fields near the Russian border purely for training purposes. She drove off looking for her sons. But the fields on which they should practice were empty.
CNN reporter Frederik Pleitgen was also in Belgorod, Russia, on the border with Ukraine when the war began. In the ARD talk “maischberger” he said “that the Russian soldiers were all very young. So it seemed like that to us.” He wondered, “Where are the middle ranks, the people who really have experience?”
If you look at the composition of the Russian armed forces, the deployment of conscripts at the front is almost inevitable. Russia relies on a mixture of conscripts and professional soldiers, a professional volunteer army as is common in the USA or Germany was never created.
Compulsory service usually lasts one year and consists of four to eight months of basic training and some remaining time in your unit. “You’ve only had a gun in your hand once in your life,” says soldier’s mother Marina. And that’s actually where the problem lies: Shortly after their training, the men are usually released again.
But Russia urgently needs armed forces, and troop losses are high. Current estimates by military analyst Micheal Kofman, who works for a US pro-government think tank, put 12,000 dead Russian soldiers and 42,000 fighters wounded. Estimates put the number of Russian soldiers deployed in the war at between 120,000 and 200,000.
That’s why the age limit for professional soldiers was raised from 40 to 50 a few days ago. But even with the conscripts, Russia seems to be using a simple trick:
Young conscripts are offered a contract to enlist as a career soldier for what the Kremlin calls “special operations” in Ukraine. Marina tells the BBC that someone from her conscript sons’ unit finally stopped denying the war effort. She was told: “Your children have signed contracts to become professional soldiers. They will return as heroes.” Marina insists her sons “never had the plan to enter into a permanent contract”.
The news magazine “Spiegel” also reported at the beginning of March about a young Russian conscript who had been transferred to the border with Ukraine. Shortly after the beginning of the war, his commander presented him and his entire troop of conscripts with a contract for commitment as a career soldier. Nobody wanted to sign at the time.
Marina and other mothers protested to the Russian military, wanting to know where their sons were. The Russian Ministry of Defense admitted a good two weeks after the war began that conscripts were also deployed in Ukraine, but put it into perspective: “Practically all of these soldiers have now been returned to Russia.” Some, however, have ended up in Ukrainian captivity. According to Russian information, Putin is said to have known nothing about it.
Marina was allowed to pick up her younger son, neither of whom signed the contract. Her youngest was sent to war anyway. She is angry that the government and his superiors have repeatedly lied to her. “When I saw him again, he seemed completely confused,” says Marina. Her son didn’t say much about his assignment. He always fended off her questions: “It’s better if you don’t know what happened there.”
With a new war tactic, Putin’s army is increasingly gaining ground in eastern Ukraine. 90 percent of the Luhansk Oblast is said to be under Russian occupation. Retired brigadier general Klaus Wittmann sees an important weakness in the Ukrainian army.
The situation in eastern Ukraine is becoming ever more precarious for the Ukrainian army. Zelenskyj fears a depopulated Donbass. Meanwhile, the US blames Russia for the grain blockade. In June, there will also be a US-led NATO maneuver in the Baltic region. What happened that night in the Ukraine war.