Vladimir Putin has the difficult task of replenishing the forces depleted during his invasion of Ukraine as their poor response to the Kyiv counteroffensive discourages potential recruits, a Pentagon official said.
The assessment comes as the Kremlin faces a tough decision on whether to announce general mobilization, following a withdrawal of more than 3,000 miles from previously occupied territory in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, as well as huge troop losses.
The unnamed official said a high number of Russian casualties meant that the Kremlin was “increasingly trying to find new recruits to fill out its small ranks”.
“The Russians are behaving so badly that news from Kharkiv province has inspired many Russian volunteers to refuse combat,” the official said, according to a report released by the Defense Ministry.
The official referred to a video on social media showing a representative of the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor, trying to convince Russian prisoners to join the war. The UK Ministry of Defense assessed last week that Wagner had been trying to recruit Russian convicts for service since at least July.
“We believe this is part of Wagner’s campaign to recruit over 1,500 convicted felons,” the Pentagon official said, “but many are refusing.”
The official said Wagner suffered heavy casualties in Ukraine, “particularly and unsurprisingly among young and inexperienced fighters.”
Newsweek contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.
Last week, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, said local officials in Russia had been tasked with generating manpower to join invading forces in Ukraine. . These initiatives are believed to have included targeting the homeless in St. Petersburg.
Russian military academies are shortening training courses, while the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Russia has even started recruiting sick and injured soldiers from hospitals.
Russian military bloggers, whom the ISW said Putin was trying to appease, are among the pro-Kremlin figures who have called for full mobilization, but that is likely to be wildly unpopular in larger cities and will be seen as an admission of failure. declared operational objectives of the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, as reports mount of demoralized Russian soldiers abandoning equipment and posts in Ukraine, Russian lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill that could see soldiers jailed for up to 10 years for desertion.
The Ukrainian army, on the other hand, has high morale as it continues to make progress in its counter-offensive. Last week, Ukrainian MP Kira Rudik said Newsweek the spirit among them was so high that many Ukrainian troops insisted on fighting despite the days off granted by their commanders.