The ongoing war has affected each and every one of us. And everyone has their own views on the events and course of this war. But it is also certain that a professional conversation with professionals is necessary for victory. We started such a conversation at the current stage of the war with a high-profile article by combat generals Valeriy Zaluzhnyi and Mykhailo Zabrodskyi entitled “Prospects for running a military campaign in 2023: Ukraineэs perspective” and continued it with an article by academician Volodymyr Horbulin and military expert Valentyn Badrak entitled “Hellish August: Will the battle of Ukraine’s South become decisive?” Today, at the request of Ukrinform, Lieutenant General Mykhailo Zabrodskyi, First Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence, analyzes a very important event – yesterday’s decision by the Russian president on a partial mobilization.
On September 21, the Russian-Ukrainian war received a new milestone: the announcement of a partial mobilization in the Russian Federation. A “mobilization” address by the Kremlin leader was supposed to be a kind of report on the course of events in Ukraine amid general semi-panic reports about an ongoing counteroffensive by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. As in any totalitarian state, society in Russia from time to time needs to hear first-hand the opinions and assessments of the situation by their leader, especially on such an extraordinary issue.
A completely atypical duet was chosen as the form for the speech. A pathetic and completely false address by the Kremlin leader was complemented by the defense minister’s speech. The primary logic is quite simple – the relevant minister explains to the nation the essence of the matter and the necessity of the decisions made. However, in the subtle language of Russian politics, this may also demonstrate a kind of pre-planned division of responsibility. The source of such a division usually is uncertainty in the successful completion of such a problematic case. Let’s try to briefly review the possible reasons for such uncertainty and outline some features related to the measures planned in the Russian Federation.
War against Ukraine or the “collective West”?
Maybe the only true element in the address is the recognition of the war as a war with the “collective West.” At first glance, it shows contempt for Ukraine as a state, as if “we would definitely conquer Ukraine.” However, such mention has a certain construction. The “collective West” can now sound like a complimentary concept given the need to maintain unity among Ukraine’s partners. Moreover, this Freudian phrase by Putin once again reminded us that the entire progressive world now stands with Ukraine, and together with us, it means they are against Russia.
The timid recognition by the minister of defense of Russian losses during the so-called “special operation” and the mention of thousands of kilometers of the front should have emphasized the complexity of the process of a large-scale invasion of the territory of a neighboring state. However, the recognized 6,000 killed occupiers somehow inexplicably correlate with the need to draft 300,000 reservists.
One cannot do without historical analogies. Such a Russian domestic political move, also designed for an external audience, is very reminiscent of the declaration of “total war” in 1944 by one of the bloodiest dictators of the last century.
Now let’s consider various aspects of mobilization itself.
How much “cannon fodder” does Russia need?
We should note a fundamental difference in the essence of the very process of Russian mobilization. In contrast to the absolutely correct and natural decisions by the Ukrainian leadership about mobilization last spring, which were dictated by the strict “fight or die” dilemma, its Russian version was developed in a completely different information environment. Russian propaganda entities worked hard on its creation for more than a year, and with the beginning of the invasion, their activity gained an incredible scale. Regular statements by the Russian leadership about the unchanging goals of the “special operation” and its going “strictly according to plan” gave it a particularly powerful impetus. Even Russian citizens who are far from military science and unspoiled by higher education have the right to ask at least themselves: what kind of operation is going “according to plan”, but at the same time requires the conscription of almost a third of a million conscripts? Or maybe this was part of the plan?
The announcement of at least a partial mobilization, no matter how paradoxical it may sound, can simultaneously serve as a sign of weakness. As already mentioned, it is hardly possible to count on the rapid replenishment of the Russian Armed Forces with highly qualified human resources from a military point of view. It is unlikely that the losses suffered by the occupying forces are mainly related to the personnel of the rear and technical or “high-tech” units. That can only mean one thing. Putin’s army does not need UAV operators, IT specialists, or operators of the Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems from the reserve. The military specialties they need the most are “shooters” or “machine gunners.” They are widespread and so hard to master. To put it simply, the Russian Armed Forces most likely need cannon fodder. It’s relatively cheap, not too problematic, and relatively fast.
We should dwell on the morale of potential future defenders of the interests of the aggressor state. It is clear that due to the secrecy of information, only a limited circle of domestic specialists can assess the real current situation with mobilization work in the Russian Federation. But the fact remains that the declared partial mobilization is the first in Russia’s modern history. And the prospect of dying outside your home country for illusory ideals began to confuse the imagination of a completely different Russian generation. At best, their perception of the war with Ukraine consists of propaganda videos and victory reports in the Russian media. Cinematographic cheap pictures about the Second World War or the war in Afghanistan cannot even be taken into account. Just as for professional military personnel there is a clear difference between the concepts of “serving” and “fighting,” for the absolute majority of civilians in the Russian Federation there is a significant difference between “supporting” and “participating.”
Of course, it would be unwise to exclude the widespread category of incorrigible Russian “military romantics” who do not care who to fight with, where and for what. We cannot forget about typical military wage earners. However, there are reasons to believe that most of them have already left Ukraine in body bags. The very fact that the Russian leadership made an unpopular decision on mobilization is the best confirmation of that. After all, the only thing that could lead to such a decision is the lack of motivated personnel.
Speaking about the motivational factor, one cannot fail to mention several waves of mobilization that were carried out by the occupiers in the temporarily occupied territories of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. It would seem that for some reasons, the level of motivation of those conscripts should have been at least not lower than those drafted into the Armed Forces of Ukraine. But the reality turned out to be completely different. The whole country remembers the pitiful appearance on videos of once “teachers” and “miners” from the 1st and 2nd Army Corps of the so-called “LPR” and “DPR”, who were forcibly sent to fight against Ukraine in order to reach the administrative border and maybe further. It is difficult to expect anything else from Russian reservists full of patriotism, for example, those from the Far East.
Purely financial interest can rightly be considered another motivational component of the mobilization process. In this case, you can ask a simple question. If the existing system of financial incentives, including all allowances/bonuses/mortgages and the social package from February 2022, turned out to be not too attractive for Russian contract soldiers, then what should hundreds of thousands of mobilized people expect?
What will the planned mobilization give Russia?
An additional 300,000 personnel is not at all a small operational-strategic figure. We will not delve into the relevant calculations, but we cannot do without simpler, but strict, military arithmetic. This number of soldiers is approximately 60 to 100 combined arms brigades. As you know, everything depends on the assigned task and staffing. We will not frighten ourselves with the prospects of creating such incredible and simultaneously unreal groups of troops, even for the capabilities of the Russian Federation. Those called up for mobilization will be distributed to replenish the losses and insufficient personnel of already existing military units. Some of them can be sent to form new units. We do not know the true plans of the Russian General Staff, so for relative objectivity, we will conventionally divide the said 300,000 by half. In this case, the number of potentially possible brigades can be reduced to 30-50. Let’s take the average number of them as a basis – 40.
But even such an ephemeral group is not a trifle at all. It gives the Russian command the opportunity to additionally form from 80 to 120 battalion tactical groups. This number of troops is comparable to the size the Russian invading army had this spring! However, thousands of people dressed in military uniforms are not yet brigades or battalions. Unsurprisingly, the main question is the following. Four dozen combined arms brigades need about 1,200 tanks, up to 4,000 IFVs or APCs, about 1,600 guns and MLRS. The question expands to two. Where will they come from? What kind of equipment will it be and in what technical condition?
The first answer seems simple. There are bases, warehouses and arms depots on Russian territory. Estimated quantitative indicators seem to allow the Russian Federation to equip even a larger number of combined arms units. The second answer is much more complicated. Modern or not very old BMP-3s and T-72B2s began to disappear rapidly in April. Since the beginning of the summer, the Russian occupying forces have been mainly replenished with tanks and infantry fighting vehicles such as T-62s, BMP-1s and MT-LBs. Their technical condition and suitability for use after “excessive” storage is a separate topic. Obviously, the Russian reserves of military equipment, even those produced in the middle of the last century, are still not limitless, and the Russian command will have to restrain their desires.
Of the so far potential results of Russian partial mobilization, there is only one most dangerous result for us and certainly justified for the enemy. The use of any additional number of replenished or newly formed military units on Ukrainian territory will give the Russian command an expanded opportunity to apply its favorite of the principles of Clausewitz’s military strategy – the concentration of forces at a selected point*. Such massiveness can relegate the question of motivation, level of training and equipment of the Russian troops to the background. The possible consequences of this can be extremely destructive for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It seems that the Russian command is planning to continue waging the war, first of all, at the expense of numbers, not skills. Therefore, it will be quite appropriate for us to take preventive measures already today.
When will we feel it at the front?
The time factor always has a considerable influence. Mobilization, like any state-level process, first of all, requires time. Minimal experience, organizational efforts, corruption on the ground must play their role. Obviously, the recent proposals to tighten criminal liability for evasion of the draft in wartime were submitted to the Russian State Duma for consideration by no accident. Since there is no reason to suspect Russian reservists of excessive enthusiasm, the procedure of notification, gathering and sending to military units may require at least one or two months. Under the condition of implementation of the minimum requirement, at least one more month will be needed to train those mobilized. In general operational terms, this means that the Russian command can count on the practical results of the mobilization no earlier than December of this year. Of course, this term can be shortened by emergency measures and neglect of training, but it is absolutely clear that a partial mobilization in the near future is unlikely to affect the situation on the front line.
The deep meaning of the Russian leadership’s decision on mobilization may be legal access to virtually unlimited human resources. In Russian conditions, under the pretext of traditional secrecy, it is not at all difficult to hide the actual scale of mobilization measures. The number of mobilized people can easily and quite imperceptibly exceed the declared 300,000. And providing the necessary and convenient information through official sources is just as easy as underestimating the actual amount of one’s own losses.
In addition to objective indicators, it is necessary to note a certain military and political risk that the announced mobilization exposes the Russian leadership to. As a result, the ranks of the armed forces of the aggressor country have to be additionally replenished by several hundreds of thousands of once civilians. Some of them have their own ideas about life and, in particular, about the direction of the country’s development. It is not at all clear that these views completely coincide with those officially announced by the Russian leadership. Despite the generally recognized low level of protest sentiment in Russian society, it is quite difficult to predict something definite in such conditions. At the beginning of the last century, the troops who did not want to be at the front of the First World War, played a crucial role in Russian history already twice.
Instead of an afterword
All that has been said in no way gives us the right to be complacent or dismissive of yet another semi-adventurous Russian decision. We are resisting a strong, insidious and purposeful enemy in achieving his goal. The enemy has a resource advantage, a huge economic potential and a considerable ideological justification for his own actions. In the search for ways to implement his aggressive plans, he does not recognize, and perhaps does not know, boundaries. However, in this situation, we should be guided by one of the instructions of the Chinese strategist and thinker Sun Tzu, who said, “the rule of warfare is not to hope that the enemy will not come, but to rely on what I can meet him with.”*.
Mykhailo Zabrodskyi, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on National Security, Defense and Intelligence, Lieutenant General
(* Carl von Clausewitz. On the Nature of War. Translated by Ruslan Herasymov — Kharkiv: Vivat, 2018.
*Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Translated by Hanna Lytvynenko. — Kharkiv: KSD, 2016)