Vladimir Putin can call up all the troops he wants, but Russia has no way to train and arm the new troops that will soon be fighting in Ukraine.
As his invasion of Ukraine crumbles badly, the Russian president announced an immediate “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens on Wednesday. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Russian television that the country would call up 300,000 reservists.
If they face Ukrainian guns on the front lines, they could be fresh casualties from Putin’s offensive more than seven months ago and that has seen the Russian military fail in almost every aspect of modern warfare.
“The Russian military is currently ill-equipped to deploy 300,000 reservists quickly and effectively,” said Alex Lord, a Europe and Eurasia expert at Sibyline strategic analysis firm in London.
“Russia is already struggling to effectively equip its professional forces in Ukraine, following significant equipment losses during the war,” Lord said.
The recent Ukrainian offensive, which has seen Kiev reclaim thousands of square meters of territory, has taken a significant toll.
The Institute for the Study of War said earlier this week that analysis by Western experts and Ukrainian intelligence showed that Russia had lost 50% to 90% of its strength in some units due to the offensive, and large amounts of armor.
And this comes on top of staggering equipment losses during combat.
Open source intelligence website Oryx, using losses confirmed only by photographic or video evidence, found that Russian forces have lost more than 6,300 vehicles, including 1,168 tanks, since the war began.
“Typically, they don’t have enough modern equipment … for a lot of new soldiers,” said Jacob Janowski, a military analyst who contributes to the Oryx blog.
JT Crump, CEO of Sibyline and a 20-year veteran of the British military, said Russia is suffering from shortages of ammunition in some calibers and is looking to source key components so it can repair or replace weapons lost on the battlefield.
It’s not just tanks and armored personnel carriers that are missing.
In many cases, Russian soldiers do not have a clear definition of the basics of Ukraine, in which they are risking their lives.
Despite Wednesday’s mobilization order, Putin still calls Ukraine a “special military operation,” not a war.
Ukrainian soldiers know that they are fighting for their motherland. Many Russian soldiers have no idea why they are in Ukraine.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielias Landsbergis noted this on Wednesday, calling Putin’s announcement of partial mobilization a “sign of desperation”.
“I think people definitely don’t want to go to war that they don’t understand. … If they call Russia’s war in Ukraine a war, people will go to prison, and now suddenly they have to fight unprepared, without weapons, without armor, without helmets,” he said.
But even if they had all the equipment, weapons and motivation they needed, it would be impossible to train 300,000 troops for war quickly, experts said.
“Russia now does not have the additional officers or facilities necessary for mass mobilization,” said Trent Telenko, a former quality control auditor at the US Defense Contract Management Agency who has researched Russian logistics.
The Russian military underwent reforms in 2008 to modernize and professionalize it, removing many of the logistical and command and control structures that once enabled the forces of the old Soviet Union to quickly train and equip large numbers of troops.
Sibyline Lord said it would take at least three months to collect, train and deploy Russian reservists.
“By which time we’ll be deep into the Ukrainian winter,” Lord said. “As such, we may not see the serious impact of conservators arriving on the battlefield until spring 2023 – and even then they are likely to be poorly trained and equipped.”
Mark Hartling, a former US Army general and CNN analyst, said he has seen firsthand how weak Russian training can be during visits to the country.
“It was horrible…very poor first aid, very little simulation to conserve resources, and…most importantly…terrible leadership,” Hartling wrote on Twitter.
“Putting new recruits on the front lines who are scarred, low morale and who don’t want to be (there) portends more (Russian) disaster.
“Jaw dropping,” Hartling tweeted.
Telenko said the newly formed army would likely be the latest casualty of Putin’s war.
“Russia can make corpses. It cannot quickly train, equip and most importantly lead them.
“Untrained waves of 20 to 50 men with AKs, some assault rifles and no radios will not disintegrate in the first Ukrainian artillery or armored attack,” he said.