It becomes more obvious the Russian professional Army wasn’t as it was presented. It wasn’t a combat ready, highly trained and well equipped force. The hundreds of thousands of professional soldiers failed to materialize and swiftly defeat the Ukrainian Army.
The Kharkov debacle was the final straw that broke the pretence of “everything is going according to the plan”. The plans failed one after another and were changed on-the-go: Kiev, landing in Odessa, Donbass, Kharkov. After the first phase, Russia withdrew from Kiev and northern regions. After the second phase, the Russian forces fled the Kharkov region. The reason — Russian Army was in bad shape. It still is. Corruption is a force that opposes competition and merit-based promotions. It is a source of stagnation and pursue of self-interests instead of a common good and improvement. Failed to battle the corruption, Putin gave way for the weakening of the Russian military strength.
Now he attempts to overcome it with numbers. Those new mobilized reservists are supposed to be the 300,000 of the most experienced ones. War in Syria produced a large number of “combat experienced” personnel, who are now may be mobilized. The less obvious goal of this mobilization effort, and this is my speculation, is to mobilize all the contract soldiers and servicemen who suddenly decided to terminate their contracts with the Army, Russian National Guards, FSB etc. I’m sure some people are only willing to be professional soldiers in the time of peace. Those will be returned into service by mobilization, or harshly sentenced.
So, let’s assume there will be no problem in mobilizing those 300,000 men. Many of them will also require only limited “refreshing” and “team building” before they can be sent to the front. Others, who are out of service for many years, will require retraining that can last for months. All of them will also require to be armed and equipped.
Currently, the existing Russian military force in Ukraine lacks some badly needed things like suicide and reconnaissance drones. Iranian supplies would quickly exhaust the existing stocks if used massively, and then they will be supplied according to their production rate. In the beginning of this war, Russia had some not insignificant number of drones. They there produced and stocked in numbers, sufficient for Syria, but not for Ukraine. Now the production lines are being hastily expanded, but there are problems to be expected with trained production workers and availability of components.
So those new forces will be underequipped, their morale –being involuntary mobilized– lower, generally speaking. But they should suffice to hold defense lines, to prevent the repetition of the “regrouping” affair in Kharkov. (Actually, few BTG’s would have sufficed to prevent it, I believe.) While the more motivated and better equipped forces could take the initiative in the fighting.
The problem is we still don’t know the level of commitment by Kremlin for achieving the full victory. Putin stated that the main goal of the SMO –the liberation and security of Donbass Republics– has remained unchanged. All I hear from this is that other objectives, like the neutral status of Ukraine, preventing any further NATO expansion, “denazification” and “demilitarization”, “decommunization” and the protection of the Russian speaking people outside of the Russian Federation — all those may change. Maybe they already have changed in Putin’s mind, and all that’s preventing the “Minsk-3” is the unwillingness of the West to end this war, as long as there is an opportunity to bleed Russia some more. Of course, this point of view is a wrong one, because if Russia survives this pressure (and I see no reason it won’t), it will only come stronger out of this war, and the West will come out weaker. And, as I keep repeating, militarily, Russia cannot lose this war. Not against Ukraine. Theoretical conventional war against NATO or China? Who knows. But not against Ukraine.
On the other hand, 300,000 new men are too excessive number just to hold the defences. It actually suggests that Kremlin is getting ready for some offensive operations in Ukraine in winter. (It may also suggest Kremlin is warry about the stability in other neighboring regions like Central Asia or the greater Caucasus. Or maybe Polish intervention is again on the table.)
This winter will be a golden opportunity for Russians to actually end this war. Europe is getting deeper in energy crisis and in a resulting social discontent, which will culminate in the winter. Any strikes on Ukrainian power-generating infrastructure Russia may initiate, will follow by a real humanitarian and economic crisis. If so, greatly weakening the Ukraine itself as well as the Western support for it, will provide an opportunity window for an effective offensive. But again, all my hopes for quick ending of this war and the resulting human suffering, all were shuttered by incompetence and failures of Russian MoD. So, I won’t be surprised if they manage to produce another debacle and let the victory slip through their old fingers yet again.
Getting back to the main point. The basis of Putin’s popular support is the belief that he (and only he) can make and keep Russia militarily strong. But after the “successful regrouping” in Kharkov front, this image started to shatter. It became painfully obvious, that despite of parades and tv reports, Russian military currently isn’t even strong enough to take on Ukraine. Not without mobilization.
Escalation is not only a sign of failure of the current Russian military, but also the attempt to change the emerging narrative. Why fire Shoigu and rebuild the Army and military industry, thus making waves in a stale pond of political elites and the balance of fractions’ power, if you can just throw another 300,000 men on this problem instead. Putin will do anything not to combat the corruption and incompetence in the seats of power, it seems. Not even in time of war.
It is said Russia has two problems: the roads and the idiots. It is also said that Russia has two allies: the Army and the Fleet. It seems the allies are only got weaker, and the problems remained the same. A more competent leader is needed, the one who will be able and willing to stir up the swamp of corruption, nepotism and incompetence. But for that, smarter voters are needed. Hopefully, the mobilization will make people smarter all other Russia. Because more people will be informed by the ones who experienced the war about the real state of affairs. Those soldiers and their families will vote sooner or later. And the more failures Russian military command will manage to produce, the lower Putin’s ratings will become. On the other hand, he is probably expecting the new voters from the newly annexed territories to vote for him. We will see.
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