December 2, 2022:
Russia is preparing to carry out a second special military mobilization for 2022. Like the previous one, which included the semi-annual conscription that takes place every year (another is held in the Spring), the goal was 300,000 men. The first mobilization barely raised 200,000 men and most of those men quickly discovered that the rumors about the chaotic state of the mobilization process and military service were true. The government soon declared all information about Russian operations in Ukraine to be secret and any open discussion about the situation in Ukraine was a criminal offense. That did not stop news of Ukrainian operations from spreading throughout Russia, it just slowed down the process. The bad news included the results of the initial (February) Russian invasion of Ukraine by over nearly 200,000 Russian troops. This was over half the army active-duty strength. That was a lot of the post-Soviet Russian ground forces. For the first time in history the peacetime Russian army had fewer men than the U.S. army
Worse, it turned out that Ukraine had more men (and some women) in its military, most of whom were recent volunteers. Ukraine also had conscription but it wasn’t really needed after Russia invaded. Many of the invading Russian troops didn’t know they were in Ukraine until they were getting shot at and some concluded they must be unwelcome visitors in Ukraine. The Ukrainian defenders knew what they were doing and had better weapons, training and leadership than most of the invading Russians. About half the invading troops were killed or wounded in the first 4-6 months. Conscripts, who account for about half the army strength, were not supposed to be in Ukraine. Anti-conscription attitudes among Russian voters led to the service obligation for conscripts becoming one year and there was a prohibition on conscripts serving outside Russia.
The poor performance of Russian troops and weapons in Ukraine has led to more opposition to the war inside Russia. More and more men conscripted or “mobilized '' men refuse to serve. Several million military age (18-27, but raised to 50 due the special mobilization) men have either left the country or gone into hiding. This includes a lot of essential workers in many businesses, even state-owned ones. The last mobilization grabbed some men over 50, though those over fifty were legally exempt. Some of these older men are now appealing to Putin to be released from service because they were supposed to be exempt, except for senior generals who were called up for administrative positions.
Russia lost about a dozen generals in Ukraine in the early months because of the loss of junior officers and need for leadership at the front lines to handle emergency situations. Russian generals are critical of the war because it is not working and the government keeps ordering operations that make no sense and will probably fail. These failures are sometimes blamed on the senior leadership. These senior officers are merely trying to carry out orders that make no sense but don’t complain, except among themselves. Sometimes they do so to retired generals and some of these men do openly criticize the government about the Ukraine operation.
The government admits that it has mismanaged the mobilization while also announcing even more mobilizations of Russian men. A growing number of mobilized men refuse to go to Ukraine and sometimes do so violently, especially those who aren’t Russian citizens (mostly from Central Asia). Untrained recruits are more of a liability than an asset. Too many of them will flee from a Ukrainian attack, or surrender. Recent efforts to use large units of recently mobilized men to stop advancing Ukrainians failed. Russian commanders in Ukraine are complaining to their superiors, not just the media, and these problems have reached senior officials in the government who found that Vladimir Putin continues to order problems fixed without taking into account the months of bad decisions that have eliminated most practical solutions.
What Russia needs now is for the Ukrainians to slow down their offensive. There’s no chance of that because Ukraine knows it has the advantage and is willing and able to take better care of its own troops than Russia can. Except during the first weeks of the invasion, Ukraine did not send untrained recruits into battle, even though most of these new soldiers were willing to go with minimal training. Ukraine made the effort to train and equip combat troops properly. This meant there were often not enough troops available to take advantage of battlefield opportunities. As the months went by, Russian recruits got less training while their Ukrainian counterparts received more. Those two trends have reached the point where Russia faces the risk of larger units collapsing when under pressure from Ukrainian forces. This is happening on a smaller scale more frequently and Russian commanders can do the math. As the proportion of untrained combat troops increases, the units they belong to must be considered unfit for combat duty. All these untrained recruits are good for is providing security in rear areas or for manual labor. Even this doesn’t work because Russian supply problems are still critical. That means not enough food, fuel, medical care or cold-weather clothing. These shortages lead to illness among the troops and little energy for manual labor.
While the army can obtain some conscripts, it cannot replace the junior officers and NCOs (sergeants) lost during the first months of the invasion. Russia has not been able to develop an NCO Corps similar to what exists in Western armies. Currently, what passes for an NCO is a contract (volunteer) soldier who has been in for a few years and knows how things work. Many of these were killed or wounded trying to hold their units together during the invasion. Those who were not killed often left the army when they returned to Russia, or simply refused to go back to Ukraine which was allowed by their enlistment contracts. The army often let these veterans get away with that refusal if they agreed to continue their service in Russia. These veterans are what the army uses to handle the newly mobilized men. Russia never was able to establish a separate training center system and newly conscripted or mobilized men are quickly informed of what happens next. In 2022 that meant receiving little or no training and little beyond a uniform and assault rifle before going to Ukraine. There the new recruit found there were few officers or NCOs (veteran contract soldiers) to take charge of them. Platoon (about 30 men) size units were often sent to a front-line location where they were told to remain, and shoot back if attacked, but without any officers or NCO’s. Some of these abandoned units chose leaders from their fellow untrained recruits. Many of these new troops had never fired a rifle before and they had little, and sometimes no, ammunition. The supply situation was a shambles because the Ukrainians regularly attacked combat zone supply storage sites. That meant irregular supplies of ammunition, food, fuel, cold-weather clothing and medical supplies.
Russia is trying to form some reliable units or rebuild combat units that were nearly wiped out in the months of the war. Some men will volunteer for this, especially those who had done their conscript service or knew someone who did, because they realize it may improve their chances of surviving. That appears to be the case in Ukraine now, where the poorly prepared conscripts are in units assigned to building fortified lines. These men will then occupy the first of multiple fortified lines while the veterans will be in the second or third line of defenses. The veterans have orders to fire on any conscripts they see fleeting the front during an attack by Ukrainian artillery or ground forces. These untrained units usually break and run when their few officers or NCOs are killed or left (ran away) on some pretext.