Vladimir Putin can muster all the troops he wants, but Russia cannot give these new troops the training and weapons they need to fight in Ukraine.
The Russian president announced on Wednesday the immediate “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens as he was severely shaken by his invasion of Ukraine. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Russian television that the country would call up 300,000 reservists.
If they end up facing Ukraine’s guns on the front lines, they could well be the latest casualties in Putin’s invasion that began more than seven months ago, and the Russian military has failed in nearly every aspect of modern warfare.
“The Russian military does not currently have the capability to deploy 300,000 reservists quickly and efficiently,” said Alex Lord, a Europe and Eurasia expert at Sibylline Strategic Analysis in London.
“Russia is already working hard to effectively equip its specialized forces in Ukraine after massive losses in equipment during the war,” Lord said.
The recent Ukrainian offensive has seen Kyiv recapture thousands of square meters of territory, inflicting heavy damage.
Earlier this week, the Institute of War said that analysis by Western experts and Ukrainian intelligence agencies found that Russia lost 50 to 90 percent of its forces in some units due to the offensive and heavy armor.
This is on top of the staggering loss of equipment over the course of the war.
Using only photo or video evidence of the losses, the open source intelligence site Oryx found that the Russian army has lost more than 6,300 cars, including 1,168 tanks, since the fighting began.
“In practice, they don’t have enough modern equipment … for so many new troops,” said Jakub Janovsky, a military analyst who writes for the Oryx blog.
Sibylline chief executive JT Crump, a 20-year veteran of the British army, said Russia was starting to suffer from ammunition shortages in certain calibers and was looking for a source of key components to repair or create replacements for weapons lost on the battlefield.
It wasn’t just tanks and armored personnel carriers that were lost.
In many cases, the Russian military has no basic knowledge in Ukraine, including a clear definition of what they are risking their lives for.
Despite Wednesday’s mobilization order, Putin still called Ukraine a “special military operation” rather than a war.
Ukrainian soldiers know they are fighting for their homeland. Many Russian soldiers do not know why they are in Ukraine.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabriel Landsbergis pointed this out on Wednesday, calling part of Putin’s mobilization statement a “sign of despair.”
“I think people definitely don’t want to be in a war they don’t understand. … If people called Russia’s war in Ukraine a war, they’d be in jail, and now they suddenly have to go in unprepared. Fight, no weapons, no body armor, no helmets,” he said.
But even if they do have all the equipment, weapons and power they need, getting 300,000 soldiers into combat training quickly is impossible, experts say.
“Neither the additional officers required for mass mobilization nor the necessary facilities exist in Russia right now,” said Trent Telenko, a former quality control auditor at the Defense Contracts Administration who has studied Russian logistics.
Reforms in 2008 aimed at modernizing and professionalizing the Russian military eliminated many of the logistical and command-and-control structures that once allowed the old Soviet army to rapidly train and equip large numbers of conscripts.
Sibilin’s Rhodes said it would take at least three months to assemble, train and deploy Russian reservists.
“We’ll be in the depths of the Ukrainian winter then,” Lord said. “As a result, we’re unlikely to see a massive influx of reservists with serious effects on the battlefield before spring 2023 — and even then, they’re likely to be undertrained and ill-equipped.”
Mark Hertling, a former U.S. Army general and CNN analyst, said he saw firsthand how bad Russian training was during a visit to Russia.
Hertling tweeted: “This sucks…basic first aid, few simulations to save resources, and…most importantly…bad leadership.”
“Putting ‘newbies’ on the front lines that are battered, demoralized and don’t want to be (there) portends more disaster (for Russia).
“Stunning,” Hertling tweeted.
The newly mobilized troops are likely to be just the latest casualties in Putin’s war, Telenko said.
“Russia can draft agencies. It cannot train, equip and most importantly lead them quickly.
“Untrained 20 to 50 men armed with AK assault rifles and no radios would crumble during the first artillery or armor attack in Ukraine,” he said.