Recent Kremlin Policies Bog Down Russian War Effort (Part One)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 150

(Source: Russia Matters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, having announced the holding of referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine, automatically launched the mobilization mechanism in Russia. But what will this mobilization entail? First, it will create a large number of poorly trained replacements to maintain numbers. In the Kyiv direction in March 2022, Russian troops had a 12-to-1 advantage over Ukrainian forces. In Severodonetsk, the Russia army held a 7-to-1 advantage. And even so, these units were only able to advance with massive artillery support.

Second, judging by the statements of Russian officials, a key change has happened with the legal status of the war (; TASS, September 26). This brings with it changes in Russian society’s attitude toward the conflict. A striking example of this is the change in the payroll system for military personnel. Those who fight in Ukrainian territory are now paid 180,000 rubles. And those who serve on Russian territory are paid a mere 35,000–40,000 rubles. Here, a legal nuance comes into play with the referendums and their ratification. The territories will be considered part of Russia. Accordingly, the financial pay for military service in these areas will now change, which will further hurt the already low morale of Russian troops (Kommersant, September 26).

The major issue of adequately supplying new recruits also remains largely unsolved. In a number of videos, it is clear that severe supply problems have led to a shortage of uniforms, armor and everyday essentials (, September 26). All this suggests that the Russian army was not at all ready for mobilization (see EDM, June 14).

Accordingly then, what does Moscow hope to achieve? On the one hand, the Kremlin is trying to position itself to better manage escalation in Ukraine. But on the other, Russia is forced to bring its threats into reality. The absence (or classification) in the decree of the exact number for the mobilization points to the fact that this was in fact an announcement of full-scale mobilization.

For the Ukrainian Armed Forces, problems will arise simply due to the fact that enemy forces are growing larger. Yes, these units will most likely be untrained and poorly equipped. But the presence of the first mobilized troops in the Kherson direction by the end of September 2022 suggests that Russia wants to compensate for its losses here, regardless of the attendant consequences (, September 27).

The quality of those mobilized will clearly be lower than the so-called “volunteer battalions” that were formed in the 3rd Army Corps. This unit provides an example of how the situation with the newly mobilized units will most likely develop. Ultimately, the 3rd Army Corps experienced a lack of coordination, logistics problem with the second echelon and a complete lack of basic training with the “volunteer” units (, September 25).

From September 28 to October 5, about 30 flights were recorded taking off from Yekaterinburg headed toward Ukraine. The flights were operated by Ural Airlines on nationalized leased aircraft. They all followed the same pattern: no call signs other than the planes’ registration numbers. All the flights were headed toward eastern Ukraine and disappeared after crossing the Don River. Reports indicate that around 5,000 mobilized soldiers were transferred in this way (, October 3).

Ultimately, it is clear that Moscow expects to repeat a program of the late Soviet army, namely the Strategic Defense Initiative. It stated that, thanks to the “early victory” strategy, the United States was able to dictate any duration of a conventional war.

Roughly, such a conflict could be imagined as follows. At the beginning of the war, the US, thanks to superior high-precision weapons, would “knock out” conventional Soviet offensive weapons (tanks, planes, helicopters and ships), without touching strategic nuclear forces. Then comes something like a stalemate. At this point, the Soviet Union no longer has the ability to conduct large-scale offensive hostilities but still possesses a huge army capable of waging long-term defensive battles. The US and its allies, in contrast, have neither the strength nor the desire to seize enemy territory and engage in grueling battles against a still strong and numerous enemy. The Soviet Union then brings to bear its huge mobilization capacity for the production of conventional weapons and sends tens of thousands of new tanks and aircraft to the front, as the US mobilizes its capacity for the production of more precision weapons.

Such a war, in principle, can last years with varying degrees of success. However, in parallel with the increased production of high-precision weapons, the US is beginning to rebuild its huge economy of war to create an overwhelming superiority in conventional offensive weapons. The US convincingly demonstrated how this is done during World War II.

The pattern of warfare described here has played out before our very eyes over the past few months in Ukraine and is now reaching its climax. We have seen how high-precision weapons supplied by North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to Ukraine have made it possible not only to replace the outdated Vilkha Multiple Launch Rocket System but also to improve the situation on the front. As a result, the Russian army was forced to withdraw parts of its supply lines further from the front to be out of the reach of Ukrainian fire (see EDM, August 16).

But can the Russian economy sustain this course of action? In the past six months, many heated discussions in Russia have been devoted to problems with the mass production of modern weapons and the so-called “mobilization of industry.” Military propagandists, with an extremely poor grasp of the issue, demanded unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), missiles, digital communication systems, electronic optics and “mass production” of all the above.

The Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently published the document, “Operational Report for January–June 2022,” which provides comprehensive information on the status of a number of state programs. In particular, special attention should be paid to the “development of the electronic and radio-electronic industry,” which, according to the authors, is among the programs with the lowest level of production—totaling only about 3.2 percent this year (, August 31).

This suggests that the industry, which is critical for the functioning of the Russian military, is in deep crisis due to “restrictive measures.” The Russian government has the funds to finance the sector, but the industry already lacks qualified personnel and, more importantly, essential high-tech components, which are in short supply.

Russian industry (especially for the military) has always been dependent on the supply of equipment and components from Europe and the US. And this dependency has no real alternative. As such, the situation is much bleaker than it seems: The Kremlin is planning for a full-out shortage of equipment necessary for the functioning of its critical infrastructure. We are not just talking about satellites and rockets here but also indispensable components for hydrometeorological centers, oil and gas infrastructure, control rooms in nuclear power plants, railways, medical equipment, base stations of civil communication systems and the list goes on—in other words, about everything that ensures the basic functioning of the Russian Federation.

Thus, the faulty mobilization and rushed annexations have not only hurt stability in Russia and the morale of Russian forces but also severely inhibited the ability of the Russian state to function properly.