Russian military steps up recruitment as war in Ukraine sheds thin ranks

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RIGA, Latvia — Russia is scrambling to recruit men to fight in Ukraine after heavy casualties in the first months of the war left the army stretched and some soldiers disenchanted.

The Kremlin has so far refused to order a general mobilization of conscription-age soldiers, as it could signal that the war is not going as well as depicted in Russian media and threaten to stir up popular resistance to the campaign. military.

Instead, the military has embarked on a campaign to expand the ranks of serving soldiers who voluntarily signed contracts by cold calling eligible men and trying to reactivate reservists.

“These efforts represent a form of shadow mobilization. These are piecemeal efforts that allow the Russian military to sustain themselves in the war, but do not solve the fundamental manpower deficit,” wrote Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at the NAC. , a Virginia think tank, in a recent analysis.

Just weeks after the February 24 invasion, online job sites began posting thousands of vacancies offered by the Department of Defense, which is looking for all kinds of military personnel, from anti-tank grenadiers to drivers and snipers. reconnaissance elite. The lists, which were first reported by the BBC’s Russian Service, are reposted or updated every few days.

In a recruitment advertisement posted in Rostov-on-Don, a few hundred kilometers from Ukraine, a deep voice says: “Test the limits of your abilities! No, live the limits, are you ready to break everyday? The action-packed ad continues: “You’ve decided to prove something to yourself. You try to detect an enemy in every shadow because if there is no enemy there is no fight, and if there is no fight there is no of victory.

Recruitment efforts have been particularly evident in St. Petersburg, where a puffy figure of a smiling uniformed officer waved to passers-by earlier this month, inviting them to enter an enlistment office to find out more about the benefits of serving in a professional military.

Job postings and recruiting flyers offer a modest base salary of up to $3,500-4,000 per month with bonuses. Each fight day, for example, earns around $55 in additional pay. These sums dwarf the Russian median salary of around $600 per month and, combined with low-interest mortgages and various other subsidies, can be attractive, especially in a declining economy.

Ukraine runs out of ammunition as battlefield outlook dims

Russia is also carrying out its Spring Project, which aims to enlist around 130,000 men between the ages of 18 and 27 by mid-July. By law, conscripts cannot be sent into combat unless they undergo at least four months of training, and the Kremlin has repeatedly sworn that conscripts would not be sent to Ukraine at all. But there have been at least two officially confirmed cases where hundreds of inexperienced soldiers ended up in the war zone.

Recruiters across the country also called eligible men to promote contract military service.

Nikita Yuferev, a St. Petersburg city legislator, received such a call in late May. “[The caller] explains that his task was simply to call and inform: “They gave me a list, and I call the inhabitants of the neighborhood. Those who are of conscription age,” she said,” Yuferev recounted. The recruiter told Yuferev that she could not disclose compensation or other details of the proposed job over the phone and offered to come to the position in person.

“At the end of our conversation, she said to me verbatim: ‘Before going on a date, you have to think carefully. I don’t persuade you. This is a very big decision in your life,” Yuferev added.

Dmitry, who only provided his first name because he feared reprisals, said he received a similar call from a recruiter in the Moscow region. An enthusiastic man asked if Dmitry was interested in a short-term contract of three to six months with “a competitive salary” and also invited him to come to the office.

Both Dmitry and Nikita declined the invitations, fearing that they would not return home if they went to the office.

Human rights groups and lawyers working with the Russian military reported that enlistment offices called in reservists for “checks” and “updates of personal information” and then offered a contract. “So, as far as I know, the Ministry of Defense is taking the opportunity to call those who are in reserve to offer them a contract and then send them to war,” said Sergei Krivenko, director of the “Citizen”. . Army. Law,” the human rights group said in an interview.

Vadim Shatrov signed a three-month contract in mid-May and was assigned to the 138th Motorized Rifle Brigade in the Belgorod region. “Two days passed between when I came to the military enlistment office ‘just to ask’ and when I was kicked out,” Vadim wrote in a diary he keeps on his Telegram channel.

Shatrov said financial reasons, particularly the need to support his ex-wife and their child, and his patriotic views were the main reasons he enlisted. But his decision also appears to have been motivated in part by Russian propaganda that portrays NATO and the “Ukrainian Nazis” as an existential threat to Russia.

Pro-war Russians increasingly critical of Ukraine conflict

“In my opinion, I’m not going to fight ordinary Ukrainians; I will fight with NATO, Nazis and terrorists! Shatrov said in mid-May.

But the closer he got to the Ukrainian border, the more disenchanted he became. Fellow soldiers who returned from “behind the ribbon” – slang for crossing into Ukraine – told him gruesome battle stories and lamented poor planning that left Russian soldiers eating grass due to a lack of provisions.

“I have no such patriotic news,” Shatrov wrote. “In the dining room, I met volunteers like me. They stayed there for five days and 80% did not return. Of the four people from Yaroslavl, only one returned. He said his commanders abandoned them there.

British intelligence estimates that Russian casualties in the first three months of the war reached 20,000, while Ukrainian officials said Russian casualties approached 30,000. Kofman said that “a reasonable estimate, based on limited information, would place Russian troops killed in action at between 7,000 and 15,000, with the most likely figure close to 10,000″.

Moscow, in its latest official tally in March, said it lost only 1,351 soldiers. A Russian lawmaker from the parliament’s defense committee, Andrey Kartapolov, said the figure had not been updated since then because Russia “has pretty much stopped losing people”. This comment runs counter to the almost daily obituaries appearing on social media.

In his diary, Shatrov described old equipment distributed to fighters, such as “rusty Kalashnikov rifles from the 1980s” and dilapidated personal armor. He said his fellow soldiers complained about the lack of rest time and poorly planned battles in which outnumbered Russian units suffered casualties from Ukrainian artillery fire.

His account was consistent with other reports of the growing exhaustion of Russian units.

“We received several hundred requests from people who wanted to terminate their contract prematurely,” Krivenko said. “Some explain that the lack of communication [with loved ones] was the reason, a command of blame that abandoned them or [complain] on the unforgiving conditions.

“And just overall they say the war is brutal, and they don’t know what they’re doing there and who they’re fighting against,” he added.

Shatrov, however, still seems committed to the cause. In one of the last posts he shared from the encampment near the Ukrainian border, he praised the bravery of Russian soldiers, while decrying how “boys were dying” because of “stupid” command decisions.


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