Artillery: Recruiting Reluctant Civilians

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August 29, 2022: Despite being declared a state secret, the extent of Russian casualties during six months of fighting in Ukraine has become widely known in Russia. Ukrainians in general, especially those with friends or family in Russia, as well as Ukrainian intelligence, monitor this Internet chatter. Ukrainian intel also monitors the pro-Russian pundits reporting what is going on with Russian forces in Ukrainian. These pundits initially were allowed to accompany Russian troops but most stopped doing so when they realized how dangerous it was. These commentators then began reporting more accurate Russian loss data and this indicated much higher Russian combat deaths than earlier estimated, in part because of poor medical care of Russian wounded and more deaths when a tank is penetrated by any kind of antitank weapon. Because of the autoloader used in Russian tanks since the 1960s, there is more exposed tank gun ammo in the turret and if one of those shells goes off, all of them do and the turret is blown off the tank so none of the crew survive. Older tanks and current Western designs are designed to minimize such damage and enable more crew to survive. Evidence like that nearly doubled the Ukrainian estimate of Russian war dead from 35,000 to 65,000. The Ukrainians also realized that the Russian military medical personnel were not equipped to handle so many wounded, especially badly wounded. This was confirmed by reports from Belarus that Russia used Belarus hospitals to treat a lot of their wounded and later mobilized Russian medical personnel, something allowed for natural disasters, to try and cope.

Ukrainian intel went back to the reports they collected from Russian Internet chatter and realized that the Russians only had about two wounded for each soldier killed in combat, versus 4.5 wounded for every Ukrainian (and Western) soldier killed in combat. Russian internet chatter indicates a lot of war wounded were permanently disabled and had problems getting promised financial aid from their government. Looking at the chatter data again, Ukrainian intel realized a lot of Russian soldiers were never officially reported as dead, often because the bodies had been left behind in Ukraine or had died from wounds soon after reaching Belarus or Russia and were quickly buried in mass graves.

Many Russians were also coming to the same conclusions and were angry at their government. Potential recruits or soldiers already in the army realized that being sent to Ukraine was something to be avoided at all costs. Ukrainian intel believes the Russians have suffered 136,000 casualties (dead and wounded) in Ukraine. There are also a lot of Russians captured or deserting. When you consider that Russia sent in about 200,000 troops initially, these are horrific losses. That initial force contained a lot of the best and most effective troops Russia had. This included airborne and elite armored units as well as special operations troops. Some of the survivors of these units have written detailed accounts of their experience in Ukraine and published those on the Internet despite that being illegal. Other veterans released video accounts of their experiences in Ukraine during the first few months. The Ukrainians suffered about 50,000 military casualties, most of them wounded. That meant six times as many Russian troops were killed compared to the Ukrainian forces. The reasons for this are that the Ukrainians were fighting on the defensive and had practiced their hit and run infantry anti-tank team tactics while the Russians had not paid attention to what they were going to encounter. Ukraine had also been receiving lots of modern portable anti-tank weapons from NATO countries in 2021. The Ukrainians had better intel (information on the enemy) and better communications thanks to Starlink, which Ukraine had started negotiating to obtain in 2021. The Russians didn’t realize how vulnerable their tanks and other armored vehicles were to the Ukrainian weapons and tactics. Most Ukrainian wounded received prompt and effective treatment because they fought only on their own territory. For Russians, there was little medical help from their own side in Ukraine and getting back to Russia or Belarus was difficult because of roving Ukrainian anti-tank teams.

At least 10,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed by Russian rocket and artillery attacks on urban areas. Ukraine believes the civilian fatalities are higher and won’t be known until the war is over and bodies in rubble and mass graves are found. In the end most of the Ukrainian dead will turn out to be civilians.

Russia has lost few civilians, most of them collaborators in Russian occupied territories attacked by the growing number of Ukrainian partisans. The partisans have become more numerous and effective as the Ukrainian military forces became more numerous and successful. Russians are fleeing the occupied territories.

The poor quality of current Russian forces in Ukraine means Russian forces are under constant threat. Ukrainian forces are concentrating on cutting Russian supply lines and luring the Russian forces into trying to advance so that the Ukrainians can kill them. Ukraine now has more than twice as many troops in action as the Russians, and the Ukrainians are better trained, motivated, armed and led than their adversaries. Ukraine, with help from NATO, is establishing training and retraining centers to improve the combat skills of their troops. That’s the key to keeping casualties down and morale up. Much is made in the media about the coming Ukrainian offensive. That has been underway for over a month but without much fanfare or compelling video of Ukrainians on the attack. Ukraine is forming some tank brigades, but mainly to threaten the Russians, not attack them head on. When the Russian forces eventually begin to collapse, then the tank and mechanized brigades will move quickly to liberate cities and large towns.

This is a nightmare situation for Russia, which is trying to threaten Ukrainians and NATO countries with the possibility of a nuclear “accident” in the major Ukrainian nuclear power complex the Russians occupy. Going nuclear would be a strategic disaster for Russia and the current Russian leader, Vladimir Putin is trying to convince Ukraine and NATO that he is deranged enough to do it. This generates talk of a coup against Putin before his decisions do substantial damage to Russia and its future.

The most obvious example of this problem is the Russian difficulty in getting soldiers to go to Ukraine. Conscripts, that make up half the military, are banned by law from going to a combat zone unless Russia is itself invaded. Contract (high paid volunteer) soldiers either refuse to renew their contracts, simply quit or, as many have discovered, by simply refusing to go to Ukraine and get away with it. The military realized they would lose too many contract soldiers if they punished those who refused to go to Ukraine.

Offering higher pay and high bonuses for agreeing to Ukraine service was less effective than expected because prompt payment is rare. That is because Russia, under heavy economic sanctions, lacks the money for all its wartime expenses. These costs are several times the peacetime defense budget because of higher medical expenses, artillery munitions replacement costs and increased expenses in occupied Ukrainian territory. That last item is for increased police and security for Russian officials in these territories and the need to repair infrastructure (bridges, railroads) destroyed by the Ukrainians as well as the higher expenses for efforts to “Russify” the Ukrainian population.

Russian recruiters have had to improvise and that has had a negative impact on troop quality and reliability. Recruiting standards have been lowered, with older or more troublesome recruits accepted. Civilians living near basic training centers have noticed the decline because the recruit trainees, when off duty, are the source of a lot of crime and bad behavior in general. This was not the case before 2022. Russia is willing to accept volunteer units like Cossacks or Chechens whose financial incentives include freedom to freely loot and terrorize Ukrainian civilians.

There is still a shortage of effective Russian combat troops. The Ukrainians are now regarded as formidable and better armed and led soldiers. Many of the Russian “advances” are because Ukrainian forces pulled back to strengthen their defenses or to create a trap for advancing Russian troops. Ukraine has no problem obtaining high quality volunteers and trains them more effectively than the Russians can manage with their less enthusiastic and reliable recruits. Some of the most effective Russian troops are recruited by Russian PMCs (private military contractors) like the Wagner Group. Wagner and other PMCs are allowed to recruit from prisons, where suitable prisoners are offered a military contract that pays well and, if they survive to complete it, their prison sentence is forgiven. These convict troops can be effective but cannot be misused. The officers supervising them realize they are dealing with volatile men who will turn on their officers if ordered to do something stupid and suicidal.

One solution the Russians are trying is to take the most promising of the recently recruited regional battalions and organizing them into the 3rd Corps, which has the most modern tanks and IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles), small arms and equipment in general and paying these new soldiers well and on time to be shock troops able to actually push the Ukrainians back. The rest of the regional battalions received no special treatment and are being sent to replace losses in Ukraine.

Despite all these efforts it appears Russia cannot obtain enough troops to win in Ukraine, much less stop the Ukrainian offensive. The Russian response is to deliberately target economic targets. If the Russians can’t have it, the Russians are trying to ensure that the Ukrainians can’t either.

 


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