According to intel obtained from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, Russia is planning to ramp up its recruitment campaign of military “volunteers” to be done outside the Russian capital of Moscow.

According to the report, the campaign is an effort to replace manpower lost during the Russo-Ukrainian war that began in late February. Moscow allegedly intends to form new units with a preference for volunteers who have previous military experience.

News of the reinvigorated Russian efforts came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed in an address that over 23,000 Russian soldiers have died because of fighting in Ukraine. The Ukrainian president also claimed that Moscow was bolstering recruitment efforts to make up for their losses on the battlefield.

“The occupiers are accumulating additional forces for new attacks against our military in the east of the country,” Zelensky said.

“We know that the Russian command is preparing for new big losses. In those units, the personnel of which was almost completely destroyed or significantly weakened in March-April, new people are being recruited. With little motivation. With little combat experience.”

Figures on the total number of Russian casualties vary depending on the source, but estimates hover around the thousands to the tens of thousands. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry added that the leaders of the Russian army have set out clear “recruitment standards” for the campaign.

Russian artillery units of MSTA-Bs destroyed by Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU StratCom). Source: https://www.facebook.com/AFUStratCom/posts/362539162581404
Russian artillery units of MSTA-Bs destroyed by Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU StratCom/Twitter)

The report says that a minimum quota of 200 volunteers from each federal district must be met each week except for Moscow. The campaign intends to use “traditional Russian narratives” regarding the West and Ukraine and the promise of increased benefits to incentivize the volunteers. While that may seem enticing to a few, it has become a joke in the SOFREP team room3 that the only place the Russian military is saving money is on retirement benefits for its senior officers.

The ministry did not disclose how the information on Russian recruitment was obtained, nor did they expound on why Moscow, Russia’s most populated city, was excluded from the campaign.

Ukraine claims that the Russian forces have already exhausted at least 95% of its Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) with minimal results. Doubts have been cast on whether a fresh batch of former and untrained fighters will yield better results.

“They just want to get the right amount. So that they can throw these units into the offensive. The Russian command is well aware that thousands more Russian soldiers will be killed and thousands more will be wounded in the coming weeks,” Zelensky said.

Russian Volunteers and Conscription Scare

Russia has also begun its annual spring draft last April, this time aiming to enlist upwards of 134,500 conscripts. All Russian men between the ages of 18 to 27 are required by law to serve at least one year in the military.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has promised that none of the new recruits will be sent to Ukraine. “Please note that conscripts will not be deployed to any hot spots,” he said, adding that conscripts will be sent back to their families after the mandatory year of service.

A Ukrainian soldier taking a selfie with captured Russian soldiers in Ukraine (AFU Stratcom). Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=360802809421706&set=a.338601761641811
A Ukrainian soldier taking a selfie with captured Russian soldiers in Ukraine (AFU Stratcom/Facebook)

However, recent developments in Ukraine, particularly rising casualties, have stoked fear in potential recruits that they might be the next ones to be sent to the frontlines.

Russian human rights organizations and lawyers noted an exponential increase of inquiries from eligible men and their loved ones about legal actions to avoid getting drafted since the invasion began.

“The amount of applications is enormous, much more if compared [to previous drafts],” an anonymous lawyer from the Russian legal group Conscious Refusal From Military Service said.

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“People have not been assured [by what Shoigu said] because it is not backed by anything but ‘the minister said so,’” the lawyer said. “Because, in fact, the law, the military service regulation, allows sending conscripts who served for at least four months into combat.”

A previous report from SOFREP revealed that the Kremlin had been struggling to recruit new conscripts as they were allegedly scared that they would be going to Ukraine. It seems that news has broken out in Russia that conscripts were fighting in Ukraine, with the majority of these conscripts contributing to the inefficiency of the Russian forces. Many of these conscripts have died, which may have scared new conscripts.

Another previous report from SOFREP also revealed that a group of Russian National Guards had sued the Russian Government for wrongful dismissal as they refused to fight in Ukraine. The guardsmen refused to fight as their unit was only limited to operations within Russia, and none of them were informed that they would be deploying to Ukraine.

The Russian conscription system is widely considered within Russia itself to be corrupt. A very large number of waivers and exemptions are granted based on employment status, education status, family status and medical conditions. Bribes to obtain waivers and exemptions are widespread in the system. As a result, new conscripts tend to be young, impoverished, jobless, and less educated than the general population. They also tend to be drawn from the most rural and poor districts of the Russian Federation with the least to offer in terms of economic prosperity.  In contrast, the all-volunteer military of the US is older in average age, drawn from the states with the largest populations, is better educated than the general population and comes overwhelmingly from the middle class in terms of household incomes.

Weakened Elite Units

Moscow is also encountering replacement issues for its most elite fighters. According to British intelligence, a significant part of Russia’s best military units has sustained severe losses in Ukraine that will take years to correct.

A tweet from the British Ministry of Defense claimed that Russia had deployed 65% of its entire land combat force of 120 BTGs in its invasion of Ukraine, a much more conservative estimate than the Ukrainian estimates of 95%.

They said that over a quarter of these forces had been rendered combat ineffective because of attrition. Among these are some of Russia’s most elite units, which include the VDV Airborne Forces.

The report is the latest addition to mounting intel that suggests Russia has been struggling on the ground. Even with a renewed focus on Ukraine’s eastern region, progress remains slow, and each passing day brings in more losses for the Russian army.

The fear now is that Russia’s poor performance will entice Vladimir Putin to resort to more dangerous and more destructive methods of war. Insider information revealed that the Russian president intends to continue the invasion even at the expense of his country and people.

“Well, one of my concerns is that, ironically, the more success that the Ukrainians have, the greater the risk that Putin will do something because he’s losing and has to save face at home,” Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said.