The Russian government has growing morale problems with the families of men recently mobilized by the army and sent to Ukraine. Too many of these new soldiers tell their friends and families back home that they received little or no training and few supplies. Officers are few and soldiers often have to organize their own leadership and sources of basic supplies like shelter, food and fuel. These new soldiers report that when the Ukrainians attack there is little they can do to defend themselves because they often have little ammunition for their rifles and some of the men have never used a rifle before.
At first the government denied that this was happening or, if it was occurring, it was rare. As more soldiers managed to report back to their families, many Russians agreed that this situation was real. Many of these new soldiers were never heard from again. They died in Ukraine and there was no one around to get their names and send word to their families. Some of these soldiers did come back, after being wounded, surviving primitive front line medical care and being evacuated to a hospital in Russia or Belarus. These wounded veterans of the Ukraine fighting confirmed what other soldiers down there were saying.
The basic problem was that the government was broke with little cash to spend on equipping new troops, much less operating training camps to give the new men essential training. The government told the provincial officials how many were needed from their area and left it to local officials to supply the new recruits with needed equipment and other essentials. A few provinces were actually able to do this but most could not because the sanctions have created an economic recession and there are more demands on provincial officials than there is cash available to pay for things. Most newly mobilized men went to Ukraine with inadequate equipment and little training. As the extent of this problem became known, the federal government ordered an economic mobilization and the creation of a Government Coordination Council which would somehow create equipment and other items the new soldiers needed. The reality was that there were no resources to call on. Many defense firms were idle because essential components were not available, especially if they were imported. Defense firms that were still operating had nothing they could divert to help the new soldiers. The Coordination Council found that there was little available to coordinate and mobilize. Nothing happened. Another issue not discussed much by the government-controlled media was widespread corruption in the government. That was often a major factor in the new troops not receiving what they needed. There were some private volunteer organizations that raised money to purchase basic equipment for the new soldiers but the body armor, proper boots and cold weather clothing obtained was not enough.
The government is trying to give some new soldiers proper training and equipment before sending them to Ukraine but shortages and corruption interfere. These factors were largely responsible for the poor performance of the initial invasion force that crossed the Ukrainian border on February 24th.
The current problems began on September 21st when the government ordered the mobilization of 300,000 “reservists”. Easy to say, hard to do. The mobilization did not go as planned because a third of those summoned did not appear and those who did were often sent to Ukraine unequipped and unprepared. The normally pro-Russian Internet based media, especially those who report via the encrypted Telegram app, have been covering the mobilization disaster, especially an incident in early October where hundreds of mobilized men from one city were sent to Ukraine and most were killed or wounded by Ukrainian artillery as they moved towards the front line. Their families back home discovered that many of the mobilized men were in hospitals receiving treatment and complaining that there was a shortage of personnel and supplies at the hospital. The government was reluctant to crack down on the wounded men or their families for going public with their complaints because of increasing physical attacks on mobilization personnel and their local offices.
Some Russian media was reporting that many mobilized men were showing up in Ukraine and finding that the unit they were assigned to had few officers or veteran soldiers available to take charge, and that troops already in Ukraine were not much better off. There were shortages of weapons, ammunition, food, medical care, cold weather gear, communications equipment and shelter. The new recruits were forbidden to take their cellphones with them but, with no one supervising the new troops, it was easy to disobey the order and take their phones to Ukraine. That enabled many new soldiers to report back home that the situation was bad and there were so many of these reports from wounded soldiers in hospitals as well as those in Ukraine that news of the mess was picked up by the Russian media and there were calls for the mobilization officials and commanders in Ukraine to be held accountable.
Ukrainian media reported that general Mikhail Zusko, the commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army had ordered one of his regiments to the front line even though that unit had hundreds newly arrived, recently mobilized men who were unprepared for combat and suffered heavy casualties from Ukrainian artillery before they reached the front line. General Zusko was one of several senior officers accused of such behavior. The Russian government soon allowed this news to be made public to show that Vladimir Putin was cracking down on subordinates who did not do their jobs. This approach was meant to portray Putin as not (or at least less) responsible for the muddled mobilization. Not publicized was the fact that Putin and his defense minister ignored the warnings from their military experts that the mobilization was being mismanaged and that problems with supplying existing troops and training newly mobilized recruits was ignored in a rush to get more troops to Ukraine as quickly as possible.
Russian media, which included many men with military experience, were now able to point out the losses that would be incurred by sending untrained, ill-equipped and poorly led new troops to Ukraine. The estimates were that at least 50,000 of the 200,000 newly mobilized men would be killed or wounded by the end of the year. The Russian media confirmed that the Defense Ministry was not keeping families of new troops aware of where their men were. It was also pointed out, first in Ukrainian media and then in Russia, that a growing number of Russian offensive operations in Ukraine were being called off because the newly mobilized troops were useless for offensive operations and not much more effective when defending. The new troops were increasingly surrendering to Ukrainian forces, who were better trained, led and supplied and veterans of months of combat. The Ukrainian soldiers were told how to encourage surrenders and how to deal with those Russian prisoners. The Ukrainians did this by the book and allowed the Red Cross to meet with and confirm the wellbeing of each POW (prisoner of war) so that they could report this to the families. All this was reported by Ukrainian media, but not by Russian media.
On October 14th Putin declared that his partial mobilization would end by the end of October. This was necessary because the upcoming twice a year conscription was supposed to take place in October. This year 120,000 young men are getting conscription notices. In 2021 it was 127,000 and there was no war. A year later, many of the men being conscripted have fled the country or gone into hiding. Some had already been “mobilized” by provincial officials desperate to meet their quotas. The potential conscripts know they are going to Ukraine because Russia recently declared that its fake vote in occupied Ukraine “approving” annexation into Russia makes it legal for conscripts to be sent there. The potential conscripts and their families also know Putin is threatening to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian occupied Ukraine. The Ukrainians are rapidly driving Russian forces out of these areas and new conscripts will be caught in the middle of it.
Another complication is to enact a new law that would keep conscripts in uniform for two years. In 2008, largely because of public pressure, the period of conscript service was reduced to one year and restrictions placed on the use of conscripts outside Russia. Going back to the old rules would encounter considerable popular opposition.
Russia is trying to make conscription and new mobilizations more effective by collecting more data on military-age men and organizing raids on hotels and other temporary residences where Russian men hide to avoid the conscription or mobilization notices that are delivered by mobilization personnel. Russian companies are working with their military age employees to keep them from being mobilized. If you have the money, you can bribe mobilization personnel to report you were not found. The government is aware of that dodge and schedules additional visits to “not found” men. The government has ordered mobilization personnel to keep at it until they meet their quotas. At the same time the quotas keep increasing and there’s no end to this despite Putin implying otherwise.
Muddles like this are common in Russia, especially when a peacetime government decides to get involved in a military operation outside Russia. The history books tend to concentrate on the brave, selfless and effective defense of Russia against invaders. External wars are another story and often come apart as is the case in Ukraine. Another angle the Russians don’t like to dwell on is that the Ukrainians are reacting like wartime Russians against foreign invaders.