Morale: Ragged Regional Volunteers


March 4, 2023: When Russia “mobilized” additional soldiers in late 2022, they did so in an improvised fashion because there was no precedent for such an action in a peacetime war like the one in Ukraine. This mobilization was left to regional (city and provincial) authorities, who had to select who would go PLUS provide uniforms, weapons and other basic supplies as well as pay and benefits. This saved the Defense Ministry a lot of money that it didn’t have in the first place. This seemed to be an innovative solution to many problems. It wasn’t. When the Defense Ministry was in charge there was some standardization in the process. In this case there wasn’t.

While the provincial governors and mayors of major cities are all appointed by the central government, each city or province has a different political atmosphere. Some are more aligned with what the central government is up to while others are not. There were dozens of local governments running this improvised mobilization and not all of them had the same ability, cash, standards or stamina for the task of sustained support for the volunteers they sent to Ukraine. Having so many regional governments taking care of the troops they mobilized didn’t work in the long term because not all local governments in Russia are the same. Some are more diligent about continuing to support the troops they had to mobilize while others didn’t provide any or had it all just disappear because of corruption.

It was corruption in the national government that led to the effort to have local governments take care of finding troops and then continuing to take care of their basic needs. While the national government was still responsible for producing warships, warplanes and armored vehicles, local governments were expected to provide uniforms, training and protective gear (helmets and vests) as well as assault rifles (also used by local police forces). All the regions were expected to send a certain number (or quota) of troops. There was no effort to impose standards regarding who was available and how well they would be trained, equipped and supported.

This meant that there was a wide variety of troops in terms of age, physical condition and willingness to serve in the army. The army did not provide any additional training for the newly mobilized troops. Some regions sent military veterans or even conducted some brief training. There was no time for much more. The mobilized troops had to be delivered to army units in Ukraine as soon as possible. In Ukraine the mobilized regional troops faced a grim situation. The army was unable to adequately supply its troops in Ukraine because the Ukrainians were very good at locating, attacking and destroying most of the supplies Russian sent to Ukraine for their troops. To make matters worse, there were corrupt officials in the Defense Ministry who often diverted supplies or the cash used to purchase them. Corruption was a major problem nationwide for a long time but this decentralized manpower mobilization scheme made it worse.

At the front there were more immediate concerns. The army had lost most of its combat officers during the first months of the invasion and there were not enough to take charge of all the regional contingents arriving in Ukraine during late 2022. Some contingents elected their own leaders, but these men had no official standing in the army. The senior leaders were more numerous and they issued many orders to these mobilized troops that were never received or could not be carried out. It was a mess and there were few units organized and led well enough to carry out any kind of military operation other than self-defense.




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