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OPINION

Cannons without fodder. Try as it may, Russia is unable to mobilize enough contract servicemen and conscripts

The situation regarding the recruitment of contract servicemen for the war is steadily getting worse. The contract price is increasing, while the number of willing individuals remains low. Despite efforts and threats, the ongoing conscription campaign has not resolved the issue of insufficient recruitment either. According to military analyst Pavel Luzin, the shortage of personnel is further exacerbated by a lack of motivation and a low level of professionalism. Luzin believes that a new mobilization wave is possible but unlikely to yield effective results.

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Blood-mongering

Russian authorities assert that there is no shortage of people willing to enlist in military service. Regional publications consistently carry similar articles, often derived from one another, which report queues at military registration and enlistment offices. These articles typically outline the financial benefits of military service and conclude with contact information for local enlistment offices. This practice mirrors the advertising tactics seen in Switzerland during the 15th century. The trade of recruitment requires promotion, and in this instance the “buyers” possess significant informational and administrative resources.

Currently, it is possible to sign initial contracts for a duration of one year, as opposed to the previous two-year term. Contract service no longer requires a minimum of three or four months of prior military service, nor does it require specialized secondary or higher education for individuals who have not yet completed their obligatory term of military service (this “exemption” has long been granted to those who have graduated from colleges and universities). Furthermore, even Russian citizenship is not a prerequisite for contract service.

Even Russian citizenship is not a prerequisite for contract service

Regarding contracts for service in volunteer formations, which are irregular units within the regular army, they can now be established for a minimum duration of three months. However, it is still impossible to complete these contracts within the designated timeframe. According to one of the clauses in the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation's order dated February 15, 2023, it is stated that “24. A citizen who is serving in a volunteer formation cannot be discharged from the formation due to the expiration of the contract period in cases where 1) they are carrying out assigned tasks in a volunteer formation outside the location of the formative military unit or outside the territory of the Russian Federation.”

However, it appears that the Defense Ministry has difficulty in dealing with volunteer formations. The State Services Portal has removed the option for individuals to choose and now defaults to contracts for military service in regular units. It is unclear whether this change is due to a low influx of volunteers or if military officials are grappling with the practical issue of effectively distinguishing between regular forces and volunteer formations.

However, we do have some statistics available. For instance, on May 19, Dmitri Medvedev announced that a total of 117,400 individuals had been enlisted as full-time contract soldiers and volunteers since the beginning of the year. Additionally, on June 1, he mentioned that “according to the Ministry of Defense, more than 134,000 people were enlisted in the Armed Forces from January 1 to May 31.” The issue with these numbers, if we take Medvedev's statements at face value, is that an additional 16,400 contract servicemen and volunteers could not have suddenly appeared within the 12-day gap between the two dates. It seems that this discrepancy might be attributed to a mass renegotiation of contracts by “mobilized contract servicemen”, i.e. those who were compelled to remain in the military in the fall of 2022 despite their contracts having expired or nearing expiration. There were reportedly at least 100,000 individuals of this nature across various branches of the armed forces, and their numbers have likely increased since then.

Paradoxically, some people regard contract service in the Russian army as a reliable means to avoid being sent to war. As an example, the Strategic Missile Forces command disclosed that from January to May, they successfully met the enlistment plan for contract positions of sergeants and junior specialists, with a total of 2,000 individuals. Among them, 1,500 conscripts made the decision to continue serving in these forces for an indefinite period, while an additional 500 people joined as new contract recruits from civilian life. The assurance offered to these people is that Strategic Missile Forces servicemen will not be deployed to participate in combat operations, while their salaries will still be paid.

Paradoxically, some people regard contract service as a means to avoid being sent to war

Currently, there are available positions for contract servicemen in “safe units” within the Strategic Missile Forces, Navy, and Air Force. Plus, surprisingly, there are still individuals who are willing to take the risk, akin to playing “Russian roulette,” where the “winners” are not those who survive longer and receive the promised payments, but rather those who sustain quick but non-life-threatening injuries, enabling them to be discharged from the army with appropriate compensation.

However, occasional reports from certain regions in Russia suggest that the recruitment of contract servicemen is encountering significant difficulties. Hence the rise in the price of blood.

Not enough conscripts

The concurrent conscription campaign appears to be progressing at a snail's pace, despite the anticipated difficulty in evading future drafts (it seems that the authorities had likely anticipated that many people would opt to complete their service as early as they could and be done with it). By early June, it appears that barely half of the plan to recruit 147,000 conscripts has been fulfilled, with the arrival of the first draftees in some regions only just commencing. However, it is unlikely that a significant under-draft similar to the one experienced last spring, where only two-thirds of the intended 134,500 soldiers were drafted, will occur this time.

Conscripts, surprisingly, seem to be the “elephant in the room” that many people are deliberately avoiding addressing. After all, according to Russian law, conscripts can be easily deployed to any war after just four months of training. The fact that the Kremlin has not exercised this option is a matter of strategic calculation. The Russian government persists in the practice of relying on contract servicemen, essentially “buying blood,” and the casualties among conscripts during a full-scale war, even in its 16th month, when the Russian government and army have already committed numerous crimes, still evoke public outcry. However, this situation may change very soon.

Will there be a new mobilization?

Both the authorities and military enlistment offciers vehemently declare that conscripts will not be sent to war and that a second wave of mobilization will not occur. However, just like in any commodity market, crises can arise within the blood market as well. If a scarce commodity cannot be acquired at an increasing price but can be taken by force, it is inevitable that it will be taken.

The issue at hand is not merely a question of quantity but also the organizational structure and the quality of people involved, including their motivation. These are complex problems that do not have easy solutions. Once the Kremlin realizes that the problem is worsening, it will likely make efforts to recruit anyone within its reach, similar to what was observed in the previous fall, and it's no rocket science.

Once the Kremlin realizes that the problem is worsening, it will likely make efforts to recruit anyone within its reach

The Kremlin, however, faces a dilemma since initiating a new wave of mobilization and, particularly, imposing martial law with general mobilization would only further exacerbate the existing imbalances in power and the economy across all levels. As Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov noted in January, “the system of mobilization training in our country was not adequately adjusted to the new modern economic realities, so we had to make on-the-spot adjustments.” Translated from bureaucratese to Russian, even a “partial” mobilization had a detrimental impact on the economy, resulting in disorder and heightened public dissatisfaction that surpassed initial expectations.

Furthermore, the 300,000 officially declared mobilized people included the aforementioned military contract servicemen who remained in the army despite their contracts expiring. Additionally, during September-October 2022, the military leadership already had a clear understanding of the number of personnel who would depart from the army by March-April 2023, as the process of preparation for dismissal in accordance with the law commences six months prior to contract expiration. These people also continued their service in the army following mobilization. Simply put, based on my estimation, the number of people mobilized from the civilian population did not exceed 150,000, contrary to claims from various reports suggesting a mobilization count of around half a million individuals.

Therefore, any attempt to further recruit individuals for the war, even in comparable numbers, let alone in numbers exceeding them, would introduce new and unpredictable political and economic risks for the Russian authorities. Consequently, such an endeavor could only be pursued in tandem with a new escalation, similar to what occurred in the fall of 2022. This escalation would not only serve to justify additional emergency measures but also to solidify the loyalty of the elite and specific segments of society on which the Russian government heavily relies.

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