Recognition…Dmitri Lovetsky/Associated Press
Kyiv, Ukraine — This summer, as the Russian military was still reaping bloody victories in eastern Ukraine, the relentless thunder of its artillery on the battlefield underscored the vast arsenal of ammunition the Moscow army could draw on to force its way forward tracks.
But Russia was fighting with another vital resource: soldiers. As the death toll in Ukraine mounted, military analysts said Moscow began engaging in what they called a “covert mobilization” aimed at raising “volunteer battalions.” State TV channels broadcast phone numbers to call those interested in participating in the “special operation” in Ukraine. Requests for “contract soldiers” were widespread.
A video surfaced this month showing prisoners being recruited to fight as mercenaries in Ukraine, offering a vivid example of Russia’s desperation to replenish the depleted ranks.
Despite President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia’s announcement Wednesday of a “partial mobilization,” Western military analysts and current and former U.S. military officials said it could take several weeks, if not months, for Russia to mobilize, train and arm additional combat-ready troops out.
Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a defense research institute in Arlington, Virginia, said the Kremlin’s first step will likely be to call up reservist officers and others with more recent military experience to replenish badly depleted units in the field. The Russian military had been identifying such personnel in anticipation of Putin’s orders for months, he said.
“The bottom line is that it won’t change many of the problems that the Russian military had in this war, and the military will be limited in how many additional forces it can deploy in the field,” Mr. Kofman said. “But it’s starting to address the structural problems that Russia has had with labor shortages.”
Crucially, Mr Kofman said, Putin’s announcement extends indefinitely the service contracts of thousands of soldiers who signed up believing they would only serve for several months, and issued guidelines preventing them from serving in Ukraine decline or leave the service.
In his speech on Wednesday, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu claimed that 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed in fighting in Ukraine, providing the first official account of the casualties since March. Western officials put Russian losses much higher, estimating that more than 80,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded.
Recognition…Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images
Even if Moscow can mobilize reservists, the Russian military faces serious shortages of equipment, vehicles and weapons, and the generation of new units to replace those lost in combat may not happen until early next year, some officials said.
“It will be many months before they can be properly equipped, trained, organized and deployed to Ukraine,” said Frederick B. Hodges, a former commander in chief of the US Army in Europe. “And without massive artillery support, these new soldiers will be mere cannon fodder, sitting in cold, wet trenches this winter as Ukrainian forces continue to advance.”
Its efforts to mobilize enough regular troops have forced the Kremlin to rely on a patchwork of impoverished people ethnic minorities, Ukrainians from the separatist areas, mercenaries and militarized National Guard units to wage war.
In parts of the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which Russia has occupied since 2014, conscription is compulsory for men between the ages of 18 and 65. Many of the combatants are local recruits. Because they are Ukrainian citizens, the Kremlin is unconcerned with their victims, experts say.
Yurii Sobolevskyi, an exiled member of the regional council in Kherson, one of the occupied territories where a referendum is planned, warned on Wednesday that men of draft age who have been given Russian passports or who have given their personal details to the occupying forces, conscription are most at risk.
“The best way to avoid forced mobilization is to go to Ukrainian-controlled territory,” he said. “If this is not possible, people should change places of residence known to the occupation authorities and try to avoid crossing checkpoints and patrols.”
Markus Santora and