The Russian military is a fading mirage: too few good men

The Russian military is a fading mirage: too few good men. By James Dunnigan.

This is big political news because the Russian Army has been seen as the world’s most powerful for seventy years now, dominating foreign affairs in Europe and along Russia’s southern border.

Russia is too small and too poor to afford a big volunteer army, so they resort to conscription:

Much of the Russian population continues to cope with the continuing use of conscription, something that has been unpopular since the end of World War II. The post-1991 government goal of having an all-volunteer force failed because it costs more than the government could afford and not enough young Russians were willing to voluntarily serve, even as better paid and treated contract soldiers. …

No one is volunteering, after hearing of what is happening in Ukraine:

Soldiers with time left on their contracts were a liability because they told anyone who would listen that the Ukraine “operation” had been a disaster for Russian troops because of determined and well-armed (with anti-tank weapons) Ukrainians regularly ambushing columns of Russian armored vehicles and quickly destroying most of them. While Russian troops were forbidden to take cell phones with them into Ukraine, the Ukrainians still had them to take photos and videos of the aftermath of these battles, and these were getting back to Russia where Russian veterans of the fighting confirmed they had seen the same grisly evidence of Russian losses or even survived one of these battles. …

Russia is making a major effort to keep Ukrainian reports on the fighting from spreading on the Russian Internet. That has been difficult because the Ukrainian after-action reports are all Russians can get as their own government refuses to release much data on casualties. Moreover, the Ukrainian data appears accurate because it often includes pictures and identities of the dead Russian troops and details on the losses individual BTGs [Battalion Task Groups] suffered. The Ukrainians had better access to where these battles took place and proved it with photos and videos showing destroyed vehicles, some of them identifiable as belonging to a particular Russian unit.

Without a lot of contract soldiers Russia could not replace BTG losses. Replacing lost tanks and other vehicles also proved to be more difficult than expected. On paper Russia had thousands of fully armed and equipped tanks and other armored vehicles in reserve for quickly replacing combat losses. Not surprisingly those reserve vehicles were often in bad shape, having been poorly maintained by conscripts and larcenous civilians who made a lot of money by taking key items from these vehicles and selling them on the black market. …

The Russian Army is running out of good men, in so many ways:

Another reason for fewer conscripts is that there were fewer young men to conscript because of lower birth rates and more young men who were in poor physical shape, or addicted to drugs, or had a police record and considered more trouble than they are worth if conscripted. …

The Russian military (mainly the Army and Interior Ministry paramilitary units) are supposed to have a million personnel. But officials admitted in 2011, off-the-record, that the real number is closer to 800,000 and slowly but relentlessly declining. …

Conscripts still make up nearly half of the military and it’s getting harder and harder to find enough people to conscript or willing to sign a contract. …

A third of the military are more enthusiastic volunteers and conscripts. These staff the elite special operations, airborne, security and specialist units. In other words, while the government claims to have a million military personnel on duty, the reality is the reality is that there are only about 200,000 troops on active duty who are good at what they do and want to be in the military.

The Ukrainians have 200,000+ soldiers already, and could have as many as 750,000 with at least basic training by mid year. That’s nationalism for you. For Ukrainians it’s a matter of national survival, but for Russians it is a war of choice in someone else’s country.

Lowering their standards in order to make their annual quotas just fills the ranks with more troublesome people, who cause more of the good troops to get out. In the last few years, the military has quietly stopped accepting many volunteers or conscripts from Moslem areas, especially the Caucasus (particularly Chechnya and Dagestan). The wisdom of this was made clear when Russian intelligence reported that the most effective Russian Moslems who joined and fought for Islamic terrorist groups were military veterans. … Commanders continued to report that if more than a few percent of their troops were Moslem there would be morale problems or worse.

The basic recruiting problem is two-fold. First, military service is very unpopular, and potential conscripts are increasingly successful at dodging the draft deliberately or otherwise. But the biggest problem is that the number of 18- year-olds is rapidly declining each year. By 2009 all draftees were born after the Soviet Union dissolved. That was when the birth rate went south year after year. Not so much because the Soviet Union was gone but more because of the economic collapse (caused by decades of communist misrule) that precipitated the collapse of the communist government. …

With conscripts now in for only a year, rather than two, the military is forced to take a lot of marginal (sickly, overweight, bad attitudes, drug users) recruits … An increasing number of the best officers and NCOs get tired of coping with all the alcoholics, drug users, and petty criminals that are taken in just to make quotas. With the exodus of the best leaders and a growing proportion of ill-trained and unreliable conscripts, the Russian military is more of a mirage than an effective combat (or even police) organization. …

The military is unpopular for conscripts mainly because of the brutal treatment they receive. This has not been getting better and “hazing” incidents are still increasing each year. This is serious stuff. There are a lot of reasons for not wanting to be in the Russian Army but the worst of them is the hazing. … It remains out of control. … Poor working conditions in general … mean that Russian soldiers are nearly twice as likely to die from accidents, or suicide, then American soldiers. Long recognized as a problem, no solution to the hazing ever worked.

The bureaucrats assume that one soldier is like another, and multicultural works. But it doesn’t:

The abuse continues to exist in part because of the growing animosity against troops who are not ethnic Russians and especially against those who are Moslem.

Because of higher birth rates among the Moslem populations, nearly 15 percent of eligible conscripts are Moslems and that is seen as more of a problem than a solution.

The Russian Army is a paper tiger. Russian nuclear forces, however, probably still work because they receive the most money and talent.

Russia has lots of unguided artillery, the only part of the army that impresses. They are using it to literally destroy Ukraine:

Ukraine appreciates foreign support and proclamations that Ukraine will win the war, but now Russia is concentrating on destroying the Ukrainian economy.

Having lost their military effort, Russia is concentrating on devastating the Ukrainian economy — even though Russia acknowledges their military operations were unable to overcome the Ukrainian defenders.

Russia is widely condemned for its attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and civilians while demanding reductions in sanctions before it will discuss any change in its operations against Ukraine. This approach has prompted Ukrainian allies to increase the military aid to unprecedented levels and pledged substantial assistance in rebuilding after the war.

An act of bastardy and vindictiveness that will potentially echo down the ages. Is there a point?