The Status of Russian Mobilization in the Russo-Ukrainian War

After the Ukrainian Kharkiv Counter Offensive, Putin rallies the troops in a desperate defense.


Совет министров Республики Крым, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Newly mobilized personnel are assembled in the Crimean region of Yalta.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to keep the Russo-Ukrainian War as far from home as possible, yet its grim realities have begun to set in for Russian citizens. With thousands dead, continued supply chain issues, technological issues, and protests and unrest, Putin seeks to end the conflict with a swift victory.

In the Russian occupied city of Sevastopol, a man stands in rank, wearing a field uniform and clutching his AK-74, a relic of 1970s Soviet weaponry. He stands shoulder to shoulder with the gray, the bald, the wrinkled, and stern-faced conscripted soldiers. Sergey Schmit is a First Sergeant of Russia’s reserves, recently mobilized to help end Putin’s “special operation” in Ukraine. 

“I will be protecting my motherland and my loving family, so that it’s quiet in the world and our children can sleep, in a normal situation,” Schmit said, amongst the crowds of families kissing their loved ones goodbye. 

Russia officially initiated the Russo-Ukrainian conflict in February of 2022, with the invasion of Ukraine. Faced with one of the largest militaries in the world, Ukraine’s survival became questionable. And yet, ten months later, Ukraine still stands, battered and bruised, but unbeaten. 

Russian armed forces have suffered devastating losses since then, clinging to their remaining occupied territories in the South and East of Ukraine. Ukraine puts Russia’s total casualties at about 60,000 with almost 6,000 Russian personnel having been killed and identified since the invasion, according to BBC News Russia. The recent Ukrainian counter-offensive has only made things worse for Russia – Ukraine has made monumental gains throughout Kherson Oblast in the south. Russian units are weak, undersupplied, and lacking in leadership, morale, and training. Putin’s solution? Mobilize.

The failure of Russia’s armed forces led to the mobilization of civilians, an inevitable tragedy, caused by the shortcomings originating from deep within the Armed Forces. Manpower is the lifeblood of any military, as it constitutes every man and woman serving from leadership to enlisted personnel, both of which Russia lacked. The invasion would commence with Russia’s airborne forces as the spearhead, as they raced to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and surrounding airports. 

These airports would have been essential for establishing a steady lifeline of supplies, equipment, and manpower to sustain Russia’s operations in Ukraine. Without the airports, Russia was cut off from necessary resources. 

To capture these airports, Russia has relied on heavily mechanized Airborne units, or in other words,  ground combat units carried by aircraft and airdropped into battle zones. However, according to Russia’s doctrine, these units were packing too many guns, and not enough soldiers. Their BMDs, or airborne infantry fighting vehicles, allow for superior firepower, but they take up large amounts of space within their transports, leaving less space for actual soldiers. If a unit is small, then it will not be able to sustain or replace casualties as easily. During the race for control of the airports, such units suffered heavy losses, forcing Russian commanders to send the units back to mainland Russia to rebuild their ranks. 

Others, such as the elite 76th Guards Air Assault Division, remain within heavy combat areas like Kherson, where a continuous flow of reinforcements are needed.

The Russian command seeks to plug the holes in the Russian line with additional manpower and reinforcements, but how will they go about mobilizing them? Russia relies heavily upon conscripts rather than volunteers, giving Russia’s Armed Forces a pool of approximately one million men, 120,000 to 140,000 of which are compelled into service. 

During American basic training, according to Lt. General Mark Hertling, former overseer of army basic training, soldiers are trained with a focus on mastery and comradery. They participate in a variety of combat skills, first aid training, navigation, and professional ethics. The intense 10 week training program, as well as additional follow-on training, results in consistent crops of professional, and specialized soldiers who are encouraged to develop and maintain careers in the military.

Russia on the other hand, lacks an effective training program. Russian conscripts receive one to two months of basic training, followed by three to six months of specialized training depending on a soldier’s field of expertise, drastically shorter in comparison to traditional basic training. From there, Russian soldiers embark on a shorter than normal enlistment of 12-18 months. Their drill sergeants are unprofessional, and training equipment is lacking. These conscripts are not trained on ethics, professionalism, or ‘moral values.’  

Most importantly, “training was geared toward familiarization with a weapon, but not qualification on it,” says Lt. General Hertling. Having a soldier qualified to use their weapon instead of just familiar can be the difference between life and death. The General adds, “The Russians performed as their training would have suggested: poorly.”

Russia’s neglect of proper training has only gotten worse since Russian president Vladimir Putin declared the partial mobilization of the armed forces. Russian commissariats (government run departments) meet the quotas of mobilized personnel while Russian training centers struggle to provide mobilized personnel with meaningful training.  Furthermore, Russian training centers rely on flawed training and rotation procedures. First, training staff are rotated from active service on the front, to training centers on Russian soil. There, they teach rudimentary skills as mentioned previously, before being rotated back to their units on the front line. Not only does Russia lack training staff to begin with, but the ones available are not permanent, nor specialized in the handling and training of new recruits. 

According to Kirill Kabanov, a member of Russia’s Human Rights Council, commissariats also struggle to come through with promised payments to mobilized personnel and their families. “Military commissaries are not aware of the problem, therefore, not out of malicious intent, they can mislead citizens,” Kabanov writes. Malicious or not, enlistment payments are crucial to the livelihoods of Russian families, and such payments actually encourage citizens to enlist in the first place. 

Mobilized conscripts across the country face similar challenges. With no food, water, and supervision, many continue to argue against or resist the mobilization altogether. On social media, civilians report the many hardships mobilization commissariats go through to meet their quotas, such as videos from St. Petersburg of a man being detained to accept a mobilization notice, or a man running from pursing police officers, evading his papers. Russian media outlets televise reports of arson against recruitment centers in Moscow Oblast and the Republic of Buryatia, with a further report on an administration building in Volgograd Oblast. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), has even published a report of a shooting taking place in a Belgorod training center, leaving 11 dead, and 15 wounded.

This brings into question the ethics of Putin’s draft, specifically the conscription of those living in Russian-occupied Ukraine. As Putin seeks to distance the war and the Russian people as much as possible, he disproportionately conscripts ethnic minorities within Russian or Russian-occupied territory. In regions such as the Crimea or Dagestan, mobilization targets those suffering from poverty, and low employment rates. With nowhere else to turn to, and the fear of consequences for dodging the draft, the new conscripts join thousands of begrudging individuals to the front lines in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy calls on all Ukrainians enlisted under Russian occupation to dodge the draft or surrender in the field to their Ukrainian brothers to help save their souls. 

With such devastating casualties, is the Russian army even capable of turning the tide in this war? Based on the publications of the MoD, Russia’s high command, at a minimum, is able to recognize their faults and failures. Their publications make an effort to highlight what are publicly believed to be their shortcomings. The official MoD posts various media of the mobilization process for the public to see.

Such media highlights training in the southern military district and personnel reception posts in the Samara region distributing plentiful and high quality equipment. Other videos show mobilized personnel of the Kaliningrad region shipping off for combat cohesion training, field leadership re-enlisting in Sevastopol. They at one point even posted once believed disabled missiles in action against Ukrainian forces. 

These highlights of mobilization are just that, highlights. They are selected by the MoD to be published in order to counter any beliefs of incompetence and inefficiency. But acknowledging one’s flaws in only one step towards the solution, acting upon them is another. 

If Russia learns its lesson from its losses over the past few months, there could be a genuine resurgence in Russia’s offensive.  Through doctrinal reforms, less corruption, improved field leadership, and a cohesive training program, Russia will once again become the menace it was perceived to be, before February’s invasion. 

In the end, Russia has no realistically possible solution that will save itself from the quagmire that is their invasion of Ukraine. Its corruption, incompetence, and false promises of victory will continue to drown it slowly. With thousands having died in the conflict, and 300,000 newly conscripted personnel on their way, it becomes difficult to comprehend the magnitude of life lost. This is the idea of Grigory Baklanov’s work. “How inaccurately we measure loss. Every life lost should be multiplied by two. And only this arithmetic of war will be mercilessly fair and mercilessly unamendable. War only knows one arithmetic action: subtraction. Subtraction, multiplied by two.”

In the end, Russia has no realistically possible solution that will save itself from the quagmire that is their invasion of Ukraine.