Staunton, August 28 – Now that the Russian military has invaded Ukraine and has engaged in combat with Ukrainian forces, it is time to assess the ability of each country to mobilize its forces for war. One Moscow commentator has done that and concluded that “the system of mobilization of the Russian army is just as ineffective as that of the Ukrainian.”
In the current issue of Sovershenno Sekretno, Aleksandr Kruglov bases his conclusion not only on the fact that neither country has moved far from its Soviet roots in this regard but also on a close examination of what each has been doing to change that situation in recent years.
Ukraine’s problems with mobilization have received wide attention in the Russian media over the last months, and Kruglov summarizes them. Efforts to draft more men have fallen short, often far short, even in western Ukraine, and the draft itself has sparked protests and various forms of draft avoidance, including bribery and even flight to Russia.
Given the need for increasing the size of Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine by five to six times to completely defeat the insurgents backed by Russian forces and the related need for the rotation of personnel through frontline units, such resistance seriously limits the ability of Ukrainian commanders to function, the Moscow analyst says.
What is of even greater concern to Kiev, he suggests, is that resistance among Ukrainians to military service has grown as losses have mounted, a trend that would likely continue if the fighting were to intensify still further. One reason for that is that Ukrainian forces are sufficiently disordered already that those who fight may not even gain recognition for having done so and the families of casualties may not get support.
The Ukrainian authorities may be creating additional problems for themselves by offering those who protest against Kiev the opportunity to avoid charges or convictions by joining the military, a pattern that could mean that some in Ukrainian uniform may be quite ready to desert or otherwise disorder Ukrainian lines.
Kruglov cites the words of Aleksandr Perendzhiyev, an expert of the Russian Association of Military Political Analysts: “the success of mobilization during war directly depends on how the population of the country views the necessity [of the conflict] and thus supports mobilization.”
And that in turn, Perendzhiyev continues, depends to no small degree on “how just the system of mobilization” appears to be and how the government takes care of the wounded and the families of casualties. On paper at least, Russia’s military system is in better shape – the legal arrangements are defined – but in reality, Moscow faces serious problems as well.
The reason for that, Kruglov says, is that “despite the fact that the Russian armed forces are by their potential much stronger than the Ukrainian ones,” they too bear the marks of their origins in the Soviet past. And in the Russian case, many of “the reforms” that have been carried out in the name of economy have only exacerbated problems.
For example, he continues, the number of military commissariats, which serve as Russia’s draft boards, was cut by 20 times, from 1647 to 81, and their personnel were almost “completely demilitarized.” That effectively destroyed the old Soviet system without putting in place an effective new one.
Under current conditions, Moscow analysts say, the Russian military is “already not capable of conducting mass mobilization” as demonstrated by the system’s failure to be able to organize “even modest training” exercises involving reservists. All such efforts have “ended in failure,” and to conceal that, the defense ministry has “classified” the results.”
Even Vladimir Putin’s intervention in June when he called for the activation of the reserves has not worked well. The results have been far less than were anticipated, in part because such actions are expensive and the regime is not willing or able to put the necessary funds at the disposal of the defense ministry.
In Kruglov’s view, “practice shows, including the latest events in Ukraine, that not one even strong army today is capable of achieving victory using cadre military personnel alone.” Reserves must be called up, but Moscow faces real problems in that regard because the number of its cadres units was cut by 80 percent and thus cannot form the nucleus of a Russian force.
Moreover, he continues, Russia has failed to set up the kind of strategic reserves any prolonged conflict requires. That means, Kruglov says, that the Russian military will not be in a position “to wage a successful war with a serious opponent even within the limits of its own borders.”
But there is no going back to the “archaic Soviet system of mobilization,” Kruglov suggests, not only because war has changed and made professionalism more important but also because society has changed and is less deferential to the demands of the military. Both those developments will make the mobilization of a Russian military for war more difficult.
More money and time needs to be put into the development of the reserves and their maintenance as a fighting force by providing “a minimum” training periods every six months. “Otherwise,” the Sovershenno Sekretno writer says, “in the course of military actions, reservists will become ‘cannon fodder’” and little else.
Russian commanders recognize this and have pushed for such a system, one that would copy the American version. But there has been no willingness on the part of the Russian political leadership to support that, Kruglov says. And again the reason almost certainly is money and the government’s unwillingness to divert it from other goals to the military.
Such arguments against investment in the reserves always seem compelling during peacetime, Kruglov suggests, but they have all too obvious and negative consequences if and when a country goes to war.