- Putin last week signed a decree demanding an increase in the size of Russia’s military by 137,000 troops.
- US officials, however, are expressing doubt that Russia could successfully pull this off.
- Recent Pentagon estimates say Russian forces have suffered tens of thousands of casualties in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely have trouble finding enough soldiers for a new plan aiming to beef up the country’s military in coming months, current and former US defense officials assess.
Last week, the Russian leader signed a decree ordering an increase in the size of Russia’s military by 137,000 troops, the aim being to boost the country’s available combat personnel from 1.01 million to 1.15 million.
The decree, which is set to take effect on January 1, 2023, did not specify how the mobilization would happen, but Pentagon officials and former US generals have doubts about whether the goal will actually be achieved.
“This effort is unlikely to succeed, as Russia has historically not met personnel and strength targets,” a senior US defense official told reporters on Monday. “And in fact, if you look at the Russian Armed Forces prior to the invasion, they may have already been 150,000 personnel short of their million-personnel goal.”
Before Russian forces invaded Ukraine in late February, around a quarter of personnel were conscripts and the rest were professional soldiers, the official said. The official said Putin has generally preferred using professional soldiers over conscripts in the war.
The official added that Russia has already started expanding recruiting on the home front to staff volunteer battalions. To do so, Russia has axed it’s age limit and pulled personnel from prisons.
Russia usually has around 900,000 active-duty service personnel — a figure smaller than the 3.5 million the Soviet Union had at a high point during the Cold War.
Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of the US Army in Europe, told DW News on Tuesday that Russia’s pursuit of more troops is “a public acknowledgement that there is a problem.”
“This is a number that they will never get,” he said. “I would bet a large amount of money there’s not 137,000 Russians wanting to step forward and join the military.”
He continued: “There is a real manpower problem in Russia, which is not something that I would have thought I’d said a few months ago. They just don’t have people that want to get in this fight.”
Hodges said if Russia did somehow manage to hit its target, it would be months before soldiers could even emerge with proper training or equipment.
Last week’s decree came as Russian forces continue to face issues and suffer heavy casualties on the battlefield in Ukraine. Recent Pentagon estimates said up to 80,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded throughout the war. A handful of Russian generals and senior officers have also been killed in fighting.
Meanwhile, Ukraine on Monday announced a major military offensive against Russian positions in the south. The push possibly signals the start to a long-awaited counteroffensive to take back the southern city of Kherson — the first major Ukrainian city to fall to Russian forces in early March.