Forces: Russian Army Kidnapping Foreigners to be Soldiers


February 27, 2024: Recently the Indian government demanded that Russia explain what they were doing with Indian men lured to Russia to take well-paying jobs as security helpers. The Russian recruiters described these jobs as having nothing to do with combat. That was a lie. Indian men who responded soon found themselves in the Russian army and headed for Ukraine. The families of the kidnapped Indian men complained to the Indian government, but the Russians refused to halt their kidnapping program. The new Indian recruits don’t speak Russian and do not want to join the Russian army or fight in Ukraine for the Russians. Many of these men probably don’t know where they are headed, but they do realize the Russians are unpredictable and that something strange is going on.

Russia treats its own soldiers in a similar fashion. The Russian army did not tell Russian soldiers sent into Ukraine in 2022 that they were invading Ukraine. The Russian troops were told they were going somewhere, presumably in Russia, for training exercises. When the Russian soldiers in Ukraine were fired on by Ukrainians there was confusion among many Russian soldiers, but some fired back, and Russian officers were ordered to make sure no Russian soldiers fled. Any who attempt to flee could be shot by their officers. The Indian recruits got the same treatment and quickly figured out that they would live a little longer by following orders to move forward. Over a thousand men were recruited by Russia from Nepal and got the same treatment. Russia is also seizing Central Asian men who came to Russia for jobs. This was because so many working-age Russian men had either been taken by the army, fled Russia or are hiding from conscription, often with the aid of their employers.

Russian recruitment techniques were one of the many unusual, to Ukrainians and Westerners, practices that were revealed after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since 2014 Ukrainians have known that Russian soldiers were unpredictable and suffering from some unexpected problems that made them this way. Further investigation by Ukrainians and their allies revealed that it was failed efforts to reform the Russian army since the 1990s that caused these problems. Since 2014, when Russia first attacked Ukraine and seized Crimea and some other territory in eastern Ukraine, it was unclear what the Russian goals were.

Before 2022 Russian leader Vladimir Putin went from talking about Ukraine being absorbed by Russia to sending more and more Russian troops to the Ukrainian border. Putin believed, despite the warnings of senior army officers, that the army’s dismal reform efforts since the 1990s had magically worked as nearly half Russia’s combat units assembled on the Ukrainian border. Reports from the Russian capital, which Ukrainian military leaders believed, indicated the decision had been made to invade despite obvious defects in the training, morale, and equipment of Russian units.

The reality of the differences between Russian and Ukrainian forces was soon made clear as the Russian advance was stopped short of its goals and took heavy casualties in the process. Copies of the attack plan, which were only distributed to a few senior commanders leading the attack, showed that the Russians believed they could quickly reach and take the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and replace the government with a pro-Russian one and declare the war over. At that point the rest of Ukraine was supposed to surrender and get used to being Russian once more.

Many Russians, especially recent veterans or parents of sons approaching conscription age, knew the truth and were perplexed at the decision to invade when so many soldiers were poorly trained and suffering from low morale. Conscripts, supposedly prohibited by law from service in a war zone, were sent in anyway.

Much of the Russian population continues to cope with the continuing use of conscription, something that has been unpopular since the end of World War II. The post-1991 government goal of having an all-volunteer force failed because it cost more than the government could afford and not enough young Russians were willing to voluntarily serve, even as better paid and treated contract soldiers.

Even though over half of Russian military personnel are now volunteers serving on contracts they signed, the ability of the military to hold onto those contract (contrakti) soldiers was always weakened if there were a lot of casualties or too much chance of being sent to a combat zone. This manifested itself later in 2022 when contract troops refused to renew their expiring contracts. Most of the combat units sent into Ukraine were composed of contract troops who were killed in large numbers. When the survivors got back to Russia, either because of wounds or because many combat battalions returned because of heavy losses, there was a sudden shortage of contract soldiers. That was because most contract troops were near the end of their two-to-three-year contracts and refused to renew. The army had signed up many soldiers for the new, since 2016, short term six to twelve month contracts for former soldiers or conscripts willing to try it and found that there were far fewer vets willing to sign these short contracts because so few contract soldiers had survived service in Ukraine.

Soldiers with time left on their contracts were a liability because they told anyone who would listen that the Ukraine operation had been a disaster for Russian troops because they were opposed by determined and well-armed Ukrainians who had anti-tank and other deadly weapons. Ukrainians regularly ambushed columns of Russian armored vehicles and quickly destroyed most of them. While Russian troops were forbidden to take cell phones with them into Ukraine, the Ukrainians still had them to take photos and videos of the aftermath of these battles, and these were getting back to Russia where Russian veterans of the fighting confirmed they had seen the same grisly evidence of Russian losses or even survived one of these battles.

Russia played down these losses, but the Ukrainian military maintained and published daily updates of Russian losses in terms of soldiers killed, wounded, or captured as well as equipment losses. After thirty days of fighting the Ukrainians were claiming that over a third of Russian troops sent into Ukraine had been killed, wounded, or captured, with even larger proportions of vehicles and weapons lost. After six weeks the Russian military admitted that losses were heavier than previously acknowledged but would not give exact figures. In part that was because an accurate count was not possible until most of the BTGs, or Battalion Task Groups combat units had returned or confirmed as having been eliminated inside Ukraine and survivors assigned to other BTGs.

Few BTGs were wiped out but many were reduced to half or a third of their original 500-600 man troops and several hundred vehicles. Communications, even for BTG or brigade commanders, was unreliable inside Ukraine because of defective radios. That meant senior commanders of armies, which commanded over a dozen BTGs and many support units, were always using outdated data on unit strength and capabilities. This was reported back to Russia and was declared a state secret. In fact, Russia was making a major effort to keep Ukrainian reports on the fighting from spreading on the Russian Internet. That has been difficult because the Ukrainian after-action reports are all Russians can get as their own government refuses to release much data on casualties. Moreover, the Ukrainian data appears accurate because it often includes pictures and identities of the dead Russian troops and details on the losses individual BTGs suffered. The Ukrainians had better access to where these battles took place and proved it with photos and videos showing destroyed vehicles, some of them identifiable as belonging to a particular Russian unit.

Without a lot of contract soldiers Russia could not replace BTG losses. Replacing lost tanks and other vehicles also proved to be more difficult than expected. On paper Russia had thousands of fully armed and equipped tanks and other armored vehicles in reserve for quickly replacing combat losses. Not surprisingly those reserve vehicles were often in bad shape, having been poorly maintained by conscripts and larcenous civilians who made a lot of money by taking key items from these vehicles and selling them on the black market. These missing items were usually not reported missing until troops received these vehicles, which were generally mobile enough to be driven onto a railroad flatcar for transportation to units needing them. Once received these reserve vehicles were found missing equipment and in need of extensive repairs to make the vehicles combat ready. This was nothing new and has been common since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and the mighty Red Army lost 80 percent of its personnel strength but few of its ships, aircraft, vehicles, and heavy weapons. Most of these now idle weapons and equipment were placed in reserve, even though most of them were found abandoned throughout Russia, and new groups of these rusting vehicles are still being found in forests while known concentrations of these vehicles or aircraft have been picked clean of useful parts.

Currently troop Russian morale is low because they are not fighting to defend Russia but to invade a neighbor. Russian leader Vladimir Putin insists that Ukraine is a separatist portion of Russia that must be reabsorbed and become Russians again. Ukrainians disagree with this assessment and few Russians are willing to fight and die to make it happen. This is a serious problem, and the Russian solution is to coerce foreigners to fight in Ukraine. There foreigners do not fight with much enthusiasm and would rather be anywhere but Ukraine or Russia. Since the invasion of Ukraine, nearly a million Russians have left Russia to avoid the war or the economic side effects caused by the extensive economic sanctions.




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