Is Russia capable of quick mass mobilization, given the tremendous losses the invaders have already suffered? Should Ukraine be alarmed?
Is Russia getting short of fighters?
Regardless of whether we take figures given by Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the UK Chief of the Defense Staff, who estimated Russia’s casualties as 50,000 soldiers dead or injured, or higher numbers from Ukrainian sources — anyway, the numbers are enormous.
In less than 5 months, up to 20% of the Russian Ground Forces have been put out of action.
Hence the recent POWs from the 18th Machine Gun Artillery Division from Iturup Island, actually a garrison of the Kuril fortified district, which has 37 men per company. They weren’t even in Chechnya or Afghanistan. And now they came to Ukraine only to be smashed by our paratroopers.
Hence the "submariners lost in Ukrainian fields", the 140th Russian commando frogmen detachment of the Northern fleet, which were battered near Dementiivka, Kharkiv region, by a military intelligence squad, which killed 36 men and took others captive.
Hence the retirees like the 62-year-old pilot from a private military company who was in a shot down Su-25 fighter bomber, navy personnel serving as infantrymen, and swarms of private military companies like Vagner or Redut.
These signals are telling and clear. We’re running out of units, my lord.
Why is it not so easy to mobilize Russians?
As the number of losses keeps increasing, alarming thoughts about mobilization in Russia arise. However, it would not be an easy one. If you haven’t drafted reservists since the Afghanistan war, and in the two heaviest campaigns in Chechnya, riot police and combined police fire teams were used, you actually lose the capability.
Mobilization always starts from the inside out — by expanding the staff of draft offices, rear services, anti-aircraft defense, storage bases, and training centers.
It means raking through the Augean stables of documentation, shuffling the organizational structure, deploying tractors and all sorts of repair shops, forming a chain of fuel consumers, and assembling pipeline and bridge crews for an increased number of new units. As well as building military towns and training grounds, equipping entrances to them, and repairing barracks that have been rotting since the times of the USSR.
Meanwhile, there are no current conscription lists, and there were only a few "partisans" drafted — the 40,000 mobilized under the BARS program, which was established only in 2021, is next to nothing for the 140 million of Russia’s population. Where should they look for reservists, at their registered addresses? Oh, well.
Do you remember how we struggled through the first waves of mobilization in 2014, and the percentage of the plan accomplished? Out of 10 call-up letters given, only one conscript showed up. This is exactly what awaits Russia if they dare to start mobilization. Consider also that in the midst of the campaign they don’t have years to pass 1% of their population through the war zone like Ukraine did in Donbas.
Historically, it has always been so.
Experience from the Afghanistan war
When the Soviet 40th army crossed the river to "fulfill its international obligations" in Afghanistan, the problems were the same.
For example, when the Kushka training unit was created, Soviet machine gunners and grenade launcher operators had to undergo five-month retraining in mountain warfare. And in a year and a half, they understood that the units supposed to reach the English Channel in two weeks are en masse prepared as well as today’s Russian army is capable of pushing NATO back to 1997.
In 1979, mobilization of the 40th army and its rear units started, amounting to 50 thousand reservists. Just imagine 60% of the groupement pulled out from the reserves.
That’s what it looked like:
- half of the fuel tanks taken from storage turned out to be inoperative;
- repair regiments left 35% of their own broken equipment on the march;
- automobile battalions from all districts were dragged together to create the 159th road building brigade (to add up to the required 5,000-strong staff, people were detached and called up from the reserves).
This could well be an Ancient Greek tragedy.
As we see, the experience was quite painful.
Out of 4 million people serving in the army, the country managed to deploy only 120 thousand in Afghanistan. In the largest offensives against the Mujahideen, like Operation Magistral, it was able to amass up to 5 thousand people, building the background for nice movies about the encirclement of the 9th company.
Can conscripts be sent to war?
Returning to the present days, where should the conscripts be drafted to? Did the Russians bother to create personnel units like our reserve corps, which consisted of nine brigades?
Do they have personnel reserves with contracts signed, not just random reservists from any place between Kaliningrad and Vladivostok? To know where they are living now, rolling a die seems to be the least worst method.
They didn’t bother, and they don’t have.
They can send conscripts, but only for someone to buy a nice white car after receiving a death gratuity, because the conscripts have been too busy sewing inside collars and whitewashing curbs.
It took five months to train a machine gunner in the Kushka training center to operate in specific Afghan conditions (in Ukraine, with its densely arranged buildings and forests in the North, it’s no better) in a country where the number of drills per battalion was somewhat bigger.
These are the results of the notorious Serdyukov’s reforms supposed to build an army of a new type.
"DPR" in steel helmets and Chechen fighters
Answering the question raised in the header, no doubt, a country of 140 million people can carry out mobilization. But in practice, it will face a lot of problems that cannot be solved in emergency mode.
As a result, you receive mobilized soldiers from the "DPR" equipped with steel helmets and medical kits made in 1976, who would stare blankly at their wounded quickly becoming KIA.
Plus, ethnic battalions from Chechnya, Tatarstan, and Buryatia, the germs of future Russian separatism that will arise when the soldiers who tasted easy money and blood come back to their miserable regions with no prospects for the future.
This doesn’t mean we can relax, as the hard defensive operation is ongoing, with the enemy storming the Soledar—Siversk line and launching missile attacks on our territory.
However, Russia is unlikely to be able to add a numerical advantage to its advantage in heavy weapons in the coming months.