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Russia Is About To Draft 300,000 New Troops. It Won’t Be Able To Train Them.

Forbes 9/21/2022 David Axe, Forbes Staff
Russian troops during a 2015 exercise. Russian defense ministry photo © Provided by Forbes Russian troops during a 2015 exercise. Russian defense ministry photo

Russia will mobilize 300,000 men in an effort to make good its losses in Ukraine and expand the army, Pres. Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday.

That’s a smaller mobilization than some analysts expected. But it’s no more likely to make a difference in Ukraine.

The Kremlin will only draft "those who served in the armed forces and have certain military specialties,” Putin said. Students, single fathers and federal legislators are exempt.

The goal, according to Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, is to grow the Russian army from its current authorized strength of 900,000 troops to 1.4 million, starting next year.

Putin’s announcement touched a nerve in a civilian population that, so far, has been insulated against the worst effects of Russia’s seven-month-old wider war in Ukraine.

A protest broke out in Moscow. The Russian government ordered Russian airlines to stop selling tickets to men between the ages of 18 and 60 in order to prevent their exodus from the country.

Even this smaller mobilization probably is more than the Russian army’s training base can handle, however. “Mobilizing 300K ‘reservists,’ after failing with depleted conventional forces, rag-tag militias, recruiting prisoners and using paramilitaries like the Wagner group, will be extremely difficult,” tweeted Mark Hertling, a retired U.S. Army general.

Hertling recalled his two visits to Russian basic-training bases. “It was awful. Familiarization versus qualification on rifles, rudimentary first aid, very few simulations to conserve resources and, most importantly, horrible leadership by ‘drill sergeants.’”

The main problem, as the Russian army inducts potentially hundreds of thousands of unhappy draftees, is that in the Russian system, basic training is cursory by design. The practice, in Russia, is for front-line brigades to handle most of the training for new troops.

But that means that training is inconsistent at best—and varies according to the resources at each brigade’s disposal. “How units are resourced plays a big part,” Hertlind explained. “One tank unit I visited near Moscow proudly told me they get one tank round [per] crew each year.”

That was during peacetime. Now that nearly all Russian brigades are in Ukraine, and suffering devastating losses, there’s even less spare capacity for large-scale training back home.

It doesn’t help that the Kremlin this summer raided the training establishment at many bases, assigning instructors to new front-line battalions in order to make up for losses the army suffered in Ukraine in the spring.

What that means, for the coming wave of draftees, is that they’re unlikely to get much in the way of effective training before they arrive at the front in Ukraine. There, they will face Ukrainian troops who are much better trained—and infinitely more motivated.

The implications are obvious. “Placing ‘newbies’ on a front line that has been mauled, has low morale and who don't want to be [there] portends more ... disaster,” Hertling tweeted. “Jaw-dropping. A new sign of [Russian] weakness.”

If there’s anything working in Russia’s favor, it’s that the war in Ukraine is about to slow down—a lot. October, November and December traditionally are wet and cold in Ukraine. Offensive operations in the country tend to pause until the ground freezes in January.

Assuming the Ukrainians oblige with a slower pace of operations, the Russian army might have a few months to whip into shape the initial consignments of fresh troops.

It’s a huge gamble for Moscow. “We will not know until 2023 if this call-up can stabilize the Russian military, let alone increase its combat power over the longer term,” noted the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C.

Even if the mobilization succeeds in generating meaningful numbers of combat-ready troops—an unlikely outcome—it could come at unacceptable cost to Putin’s regime.

The mobilization could force millions of everyday Russians finally to confront the truth. Their country is at war, and losing. “Putin is accepting greater political risk by undermining the fiction that Russia is neither in a war, nor a national crisis, in the hope of generating more combat power,” the U.K. Defense Ministry stated.

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