Voices within the Russian military community are beginning to express concern about the future course of the war against Ukraine.
Russian military experts, even those totally loyal to the Kremlin, are becoming petulant and increasingly sounding the alarm that prolonged hostilities will backfire on Russia.
These doubts about the course of events are increasingly shared by the public. In mid-July, independent sociologists from the Chronicles research project Noted that over a period of about six weeks, the number of Russians saying they supported the so-called special military operation fell by 9%, from 64% to 55%. This is the lowest level since the beginning of the war and, according to the researchers, this decline is expected to continue.
Interestingly, about a month ago pro-Kremlin Telegram channels also recognized that even with the high level of patriotic feeling and the popular will “to confront the whole West”, Russian society expresses a clear desire to end the special operation as soon as possible.
The doubts of Russian military experts are new, especially their calls for a rapid end to the active phase of the war. Their arguments are coated with acceptable regime propaganda (that a protracted war is good for the West and “Kyiv nationalists”), but the key message is that Russia must not allow this to happen.
The head of the Center for the Study of Applied Public Issues of National Security, former GRU Colonel Alexander Zhilin, a hardliner and regular interpreter on state propaganda channels, recently argued in slightly apocalyptic terms that a prolonged war would lead to “the destruction of economies, the haemorrhage of armies, the infliction of heavy losses on the potential of two belligerent countries”, and that it risked relegating Russia “in margin” of the political world. He compared calls to increase the intensity of hostilities with US actions in Vietnam, acknowledged the fact that innocent, unarmed people died and called for a non-military solution so that Russia could live next to it. Ukraine “and have prospects for the normalization of relations”. ”
At the end of July, several articles on a similar theme appeared on the Military Review site, close to the Russian Ministry of Defense. In one of them, the author Alexander Odintsov underline that the “Russian strategy of limited and ranged strikes against the Ukrainian armed forces” has reached its limits, while the Ukrainian army has shown unexpected resilience and is ready to die for its ideas.
Accordingly, if the Russian army plans to cut off the Ukrainian formations from the rear in order to completely deprive them of supplies, it must at least double its forces. If the Kremlin plans an even wider attack in the direction of Nikolaev and Odessa “with the aim of completely encircling them and opening the road to Transnistria”, its forces will have to be at least tripled. According to the military expert, to launch a decisive offensive, as described by propagandists, Russia will have to “increase the number of [deployed troops] by at least 1.5 times and restore parity in the drone domain [drones] and counter-battery defense in a short time.
The Russian military operation faces real risks, Odintsov said. His extension could start playing against Russia, as Ukraine continues to increase its potential with foreign weapons and a much larger call for manpower. Critically, Russian military experts fear that “with the first major failure, society’s attitude to power will change” and that the Kremlin simply does not have enough resources for a long war (the 1st August it was recorded that Russia has now lost more than 5,000 armored vehicles in five months of war.)
Similar warnings were issued by another Military Review writer, Alexander Staver. He critical the propaganda myth of the “Slavic brotherhood”, emphasized that the main task should be the capture of Donbass and predicted possible strikes by Ukraine on the Crimean bridge, Simferopol and Sevastopol (where a naval headquarters Russian was hit for the first time by a Ukrainian Drone on July 31.)
Data from independent analysts confirm the concerns of Russian military experts. It is obvious that Russia lacks the resources to go on a decisive offensive, said one of them. Another said that the majority of Russian society tends passively support the war and is not ready to participate in it personally. This is why the Kremlin prefers the tactic of “hidden” mobilization.
As noted by the American Institute for the Study of War, the Kremlin likely ordered Russian regions to form volunteer battalions to participate in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, instead of declaring partial or full mobilization. . According to the researcherssuch battalions could generate about 34,000 new military personnel by the end of August if each federal zone produces at least one military unit of 400 men.
Another non-traditional method of attracting new soldiers is the recruitment of convicted criminals, conducted primarily by the Wagner mercenary group. According independent media, at least three prisoners thus recruited died in the Donbass. For six months of service, these “volunteers” are promised 200,000 rubles (about $3,200) plus an amnesty for those who return alive. According to relatives of the prisoners, these pledges are in no way officially recorded and the army will take anyone who wants to go, regardless of their previous military experience.
Prominent Russian human rights activist Olga Romanova also confirmed recruiting prisoners for war. According to her, recruitment is carried out in all regions of Russia, and several hundred people can be recruited in each region. At the same time, there is no legal basis for sending these people into the combat zone. These recruitment plans were confirmed by the American Paul Whelan, imprisoned in a Russian colony on the charge of espionage. In a statement sent by his brother David, it was said that about 10 prisoners from IK-17, where he is incarcerated, went to the front.
Such measures may indicate the Kremlin’s lack of resources to do without the general mobilization that it seems desperate to avoid. At the same time, Putin and his aides have rejected any idea of negotiating with Ukraine at this stage.
This is because he allowed his propaganda narrative to paint him into a corner. The allegation that “Ukrainian Nazis will destroy the pro-Russian population in the southeast” does not leave much room for the Kremlin to withdraw from the occupied territories. In the eyes of propaganda consumers, such a retreat would look like “betrayal of the Russian people, who have been waiting for their release for eight years,” as propagandists describe it. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Russian puppet known as the Donetsk People’s Republic calls for “the further liberation of Russian cities, including Kyiv”.
For now, the Kremlin seems to believe that the best way out of this impasse is to quickly incorporate the occupied territories into Russia. The occupation authorities of the Russian-controlled part of the Zaporozhye region announcement July 14 that a referendum on joining the Russian Federation will take place in early autumn. Plans for the annexation of all Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, as well as the whole of Donbass, were also confirmed by US intelligence.
The Kremlin can hope that the annexation of new territories will lead to a new patriotic groundswell, as happened in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. If this is indeed Putin’s plan, it appears to be a shaky foundation for optimism. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s counterattacks increase and new units are forming behind the front lines. Unless something drastically changes, the Russian military has cause for concern.
Kseniya Kirillova is an analyst specializing in Russian society, mentality, propaganda and foreign policy. Author of numerous articles for the Jamestown Foundation, she has also written for the Atlantic Council, Stratfor and others.