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Another round of mobilization in Russia appears inevitable. The only question is when.
Russia’s first wave of mobilization began with a decree from Vladimir Putin on September 21, 2022. In the months that followed, according to official figures, the military called up approximately 300,000 people. This allowed the Kremlin to fill out the ranks of its existing formations, which had suffered heavy losses in the first six months of the invasion and weren’t fully staffed even at the start of the full-scale war. Additionally, more than 65 new “territorial” regiments were formed from about 150,000 draftees, most of which have now been sent to the front. One year later, Putin still hasn’t issued a decree to end mobilization, which means the campaign is technically still ongoing.
The Russian authorities claim that moving forward, they’ll use “volunteer” forces to fight the war; they plan to hire 420,000 fighters by the end of 2023 alone, and have purportedly already recruited 300,000 since the start of the year. Both of these figures seem to be greatly inflated, however. Between September 2022, when Moscow began its campaign to enlist new contract fighters en masse, and December, only about 20,000 “volunteers” signed up to fight, according to official data. Before that, the military’s only “volunteer” unit was the 3rd Army Corps, which consisted of about 15,000 people. It’s likely that the campaign to recruit new contract soldiers hasn’t even produced enough fighters to make up for the losses from contract terminations by servicemen who joined the army before the full-scale war (breaking one’s contract was officially permitted until September 2022).
At the same time, the Russian military continues to suffer substantial losses on the battlefield. As of the end of May 2023, the Russian Armed Forces and Wagner Group had suffered about 47,000 fatalities (not including Ukrainian citizens who fought in military units of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics”). From May to early September, by rough estimates (based on obituary data collected by Mediazona and the BBC), another 15,000 Russian soldiers were killed. That’s not to mention the fighters who have been discharged due to critical injuries (the numbers on this are unclear, but indirect evidence suggests that when injuries are taken into account, Russia’s total irretrievable losses are three times higher than the number of fatalities). Furthermore, in 2023, about 50,000 pardoned convicts who had previously fought with Wagner Group had their contracts terminated, although the Defense Ministry has since begun actively recruiting “volunteers” from Russian prisons (their numbers are unknown).
Meanwhile, according to the Defense Ministry’s plan, the army is slated to grow by half a million people. In 2023, the agency’s plan was to create two new combined arms armies and an army corps. But the significant losses Russia has suffered mean that, even if the military realizes its plan to recruit new contract soldiers, its ability to increase the army’s size (which is critical if it wants to maintain parity with Ukraine’s forces, to say nothing of overtaking them) is under threat.
In addition, the Defense Ministry may soon have to rotate out the draftees who were called up in 2022. Attempting to force them to fight until the very end of the war in Ukraine could be costly (although the military is not officially required to demobilize anybody until Vladimir Putin issues a decree ending the “partial mobilization” campaign). A failure to rotate personnel out could lead to a decline in units’ combat effectiveness, and the current sentiment among draftees on the front suggests that this is increasingly becoming likely.
Judging solely by the numbers, the prospect of another round of mobilization in Russia appears to be a matter of when, not if. The longer the war in Ukraine goes on, the more likely another wave becomes — and the closer it gets.
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