Vladimir Putin can call in all the troops he wants, but Russia has no way of getting those new troops the training and weapons they need to fight in Ukraine any time soon.
With his invasion of Ukraine having failed miserably, the Russian president announced an urgent “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens on Wednesday. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Russian television that the country would call up 300,000 reservists.
If they end up facing Ukrainian weapons on the front lines, they are likely to become the latest casualties in an invasion launched by Putin more than seven months ago that has failed the Russian military in nearly every aspect of modern warfare.
“The Russian military is not currently equipped to deploy 300,000 reservists quickly and effectively,” said Alex Lord, a Europe and Eurasia expert at strategic analysis firm Sibylline in London.
“Russia is already struggling to effectively equip its professional forces in Ukraine, following significant equipment losses during the war,” Lord said.
The recent Ukrainian offensive, in which Kiev recaptured thousands of square meters of territory, has taken a significant toll.
The Institute for the Study of War said earlier this week that an analysis by Western experts and Ukrainian intelligence services showed that Russia had lost 50% to 90% of its strength in some units to the offensive and huge amounts of armor.
And that comes with staggering equipment losses during the war.
The open-source intelligence website Oryx, using only losses confirmed by photographic or video evidence, revealed that Russian forces have lost more than 6,300 vehicles, including 1,168 tanks, since the fighting began.
“In practice, they don’t have enough modern equipment … for so many new soldiers,” said Jakub Janovsky, a military analyst who contributes to the Oryx blog.
JT Crump, chief executive of Sibylline and a 20-year veteran of the British military, said Russia was beginning to suffer shortages of ammunition in some calibers and was looking to source key components to be able to repair or build replacements for weapons lost on the battlefield.
Not only tanks and armored personnel carriers were lost.
In many cases, Russian troops had no basis in Ukraine, including a clear definition of what they were risking their lives for.
Despite Wednesday’s mobilization order, Putin continues to refer to Ukraine as a “special military operation” and not a war.
Ukrainian soldiers know that they are fighting for their homeland. Many Russian soldiers have no idea why they are in Ukraine.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis noted this on Wednesday, calling Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilization a “sign of desperation”.
“I think people definitely don’t want to go to a war they don’t understand. … People would be taken to prison if they called Russia’s war in Ukraine a war, and now suddenly they have to go in and fight unprepared, without weapons, without body armor, without helmets,” he said.
But even if they had all the equipment, weapons and motivation they needed, it would be impossible to quickly train 300,000 soldiers for combat, experts say.
“There are no additional officers or facilities in Russia now necessary for mass mobilization,” said Trent Teleenko, a former quality control auditor at the Defense Contract Management Agency who has studied Russian logistics.
Reforms in 2008, aimed at modernizing and professionalizing the Russian military, removed many of the logistical and command and control structures that once allowed the forces of the old Soviet Union to quickly train and equip vast numbers of mobilized conscripts.
Lord, in Sibylline, said it would take at least three months to assemble, train and deploy the Russian reservists.
“At that time we will be in the depths of the Ukrainian winter,” Lord said. “As such, we are unlikely to see the influx of reservists have a serious impact on the battlefield until the spring of 2023 – and even then they are likely to be ill-trained and ill-equipped.”
Mark Hertling, a former U.S. Army general and CNN analyst, said he saw firsthand how bad Russian training can be during a visit to the country.
“It was terrible… rudimentary first aid, very few simulations to conserve resources and… most importantly… terrible leadership,” Hertling wrote on Twitter.
“Putting ‘newbies’ on the front line that are corrupt, have low morale and don’t want to be (there) is another (Russian) disaster.
“Amazing,” Hertling tweeted.
Teleenko said the newly mobilized troops are likely to become just the latest casualties in Putin’s war.
“Russia can assemble bodies. He cannot quickly train, equip and most importantly lead them.
“Uncommitted waves of 20 to 50 something people with AK-something assault rifles and no radios will disband at the first Ukrainian artillery or armor attack,” he said.