The Kremlin is reportedly struggling to recruit new soldiers because potential conscripts are concerned about what might happen to them in Ukraine. Upon hearing the news of their comrades dying in the invasion and the challenges the Russians are facing, Russian individuals are hesitant to enlist as they may not come back home if deployed to the frontlines.

Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk cited their military intelligence when he claimed that Russia initially planned to amass around 26,000 reservists to fight in Donbas and failed because individuals avoided getting drafted.

“Males aged 18 to 65 make every attempt to avoid mobilization because they don’t want to become cannon fodder for the occupier’s army,” Motuzyanyk said.

According to Motuzyanyk, potential conscripts are told that their duties will be limited to “controlling occupied territories, guarding roads and military facilities, and improving the defense positions.” However, it appears that Moscow has a very flexible interpretation of these duties, as seen in the reports that Russian soldiers were unwillingly fighting in Ukraine.

Dead Russian soldiers who froze to death in Kharkiv (Ukrainian Army., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Russian_soldiers_frozen_to_death_in_fields_near_Chuhuiv,_Ukraine_(March_2022)_02.jpg
Dead Russian soldiers killed in Kharkiv. Note how closely packed together they are. March 2022 (Ukrainian Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Motuzyanyk claimed that the reality is these recruits will be sent to the frontlines to replace those that died since the start of the invasion.

“As practical experience shows, such mobilized people are the first priority reserve to replenish losses of those units who are directly engaged in combat action against Ukraine,” Motuzyanyk said.

After the unsuccessful operation of the Russians in northern Ukraine, Russian officials began their military operations in the east, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had announced that the battle of Donbas had commenced. Before this, the Russians claimed that the liberation of Donbas was always the goal of the operation and not to topple the Ukrainian government as earlier intel would suggest.

In the Russian system of conscription, evasion is widespread.  Families with money are able to get medical exemptions for their sons while others are able to avoid being served with the notice to appear at a conscription center by moving from their home area.  As a result, conscripts tend to be from the rural areas of Russia and are made up of the poor and uneducated sector of Russian society. Urban sophisticates in Russia’s two biggest cities Moscow or St Petersburg are vastly underrepresented in Russia’s armed forces.

Mounting Losses of Troops

The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that around 20,100 Russian soldiers had been killed throughout the war in Ukraine, with the most recent figures at 20,600. On top of the troops lost, Ukrainian media claimed that the Russian Armed Forces had lost 167 planes, 147 helicopters, 790 tanks, 381 artillery units, 2,041 armored carriers, and 1,387 vehicles. While no one can verify these numbers exactly, they are certainly inferred given the video and photographic evidence and the lack of success by the Russian army in the field.

Russia claims it has only lost about 1,200 troops, which really does nothing to improve its army’s reputation for failure in the field. Losing so few and not being able to take and hold ground would make them seem even more inept.

NATO had also predicted earlier that Russian casualties would be in the thousands. In a previous report, NATO estimated that roughly 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops had been killed since February 24.

The report estimates that around 40,000 Russian soldiers are either dead, injured, captured, or missing. It added that Moscow began its invasion with about 190,000 soldiers and has since brought in additional forces from Syria, Chechnya, and the Wagner Group.  These losses may represent the cream of Russia’s combat troops in the field.

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Russia itself has closely guarded its figures on casualties. The last time the country disclosed such information was on March 2, when they claimed to have lost only 500 troops with 1,600 wounded.

It also does not help that 8 Russian generals and countless high-ranking military officials have been killed in Ukraine. The message being sent to potential conscripts is that if high-ranking generals are being killed, what are the chances for those who have just joined the military?

Seeking Immediate Replacement

Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a decree last March 31 ordering 134,500 new conscripts for the Russian Armed Forces as part of Russia’s yearly draft.

The decree, which came five weeks after the start of Putin’s invasion, is reportedly not related to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

The annual draft will run from April 1 to July 15 and will target Russian males between 18 to 27 years of age, as written in the decree. Shoigu added that the new recruits would be sent to their assigned military camps during the latter half of May.

“Most military personnel will undergo professional training in training centers for three to five months. Let me emphasize that recruits will not be sent to any hot spots,” Shoigu said.  Russian law prohibits sending conscripts with less than 4 months of service to an active combat zone after unknown thousands were slaughtered in the conflicts in Georgia and Chechnya in the 1990s. The Kremlin parse away the definition of a “combat zone” by calling it a policing action, peacekeeping or sticking to their line about it being a “Special Military Operation.”

However, if these conscripts were sent to Ukraine as they have previously done so, this would be highly counterproductive for their forces. Military analysts(including us) have said that Russian forces seem to have utterly failed to pull off a combined arms offensive, with a large majority of their troops being undisciplined and lacking in combat training. While this could be evidence of just how little the Russians train their soldiers, it can also be the case that conscript training is limited to the most rudimentary of training and their real training begins at their actual units. If that unit is fighting in Ukraine, raw recruits are getting On-The-Job combat training with the expected results.

That the Russians have real problems equipping and supplying their troops is now old news.  SOFREP has reported that conscripts were using old Mosin-Nagant rifles, a phenomenon that was eerily similar to when the Russians sent untrained conscripts to Chechnya 20 years ago. Reports also surfaced that the conscripts did not know how to fire automatic weapons, which clearly shows the severe lack of skill and knowledge about the basics of combat. We also reported on expired rations and even 30-year-old rocket rounds being supplied to Russian units going into combat.

Various videos on social media have seen Russian soldiers captured by Ukraine claiming they had no idea they were going to war but were told they were on a training exercise, even as some were told Ukrainians would welcome them.

We have also seen conscripts (and Russian forces in general) manifest low morale by surrendering without resistance, abandoning armed and functioning vehicles, and piles of discarded uniforms by Russian troops who changed into civilian clothes and either deserted to Russia or Belarus or to defect to Ukraine.

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