Putin’s New Cannon Fodder Won’t Win the Ukraine War

Russian President Vladimir Putin three-folded on the war in Ukraine in a short but provocative televised address on Tuesday. Politically, he announced that a series of referendums on joining Russia would be held this week in the conquered territories of eastern Ukraine. Militarily, he repeated previous not-so-veiled threats to use nuclear weapons and announced a mobilization of 300,000 reservists to launch in his restive “special military operation”.

All of these choices smack of desperation and an attempt to thread a narrow needle: Putin wants the Russians to believe that all is well and that he will eventually conquer Ukraine; but he also knows that with as many as 80,000 soldiers killed or wounded in just over six months of war, he simply needs to get more soldiers into the fight.

Referendums are largely meaningless, with predetermined outcomes that no informed observer or the United Nations will take seriously. The nuclear threat is a repeat of Putin’s bluster of months ago. It is very unlikely that he would even use a low-yield tactical nuclear weapon given the obvious threat of the outbreak of World War III and also the immense damage it would cause in his efforts to keep Brazil, India, the Nigeria, South Africa and other major non-aligned countries. neutral country.

But the mobilization of 300,000 men is worth examining within the framework of a military analysis. What does the decision to call reservations say about the state of the war, and how should the West respond?

When I was Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, I took part in exercises with numerous reserve troops, including those of three non-NATO countries with exceptional capabilities: Finland, Israel and Switzerland. (Finland is currently in the middle of the NATO membership process.)

Finland and Israel are small nations with a history of invasion by their immediate neighbors – Russia in the case of the former and various Arab nations for the latter. Both have universal conscription (male for Finland, both genders for Israel) which fuels a highly ordered, motivated and exceptionally well-equipped reserve force. I came away with a deep respect for their abilities.

Another country with incredibly ready reserves is neutral Switzerland. Military tradition is deeply respected and rooted in Swiss culture, from highly skilled fighter pilots to troops mounted on racing bikes. Every time I flew over Switzerland in NATO planes, I watched in awe left and right as reserve fighter pilots in high-end jets escorted us over their country.

The Russian reserve system, on the other hand, is not well liked by outside military analysts. It’s based on the remnants of universal conscription that had been in place for decades, and the stories of raw conscripts being beaten, abused, and starved are legendary. (See, for example, Arkady Babchenko’s “One Soldier’s War” for an overview of the brutal system.) It is also scandalously corrupt. When soldiers step out of uniform – after brutal wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Syria – they want to get as far away from the military as possible.

Once released, the former soldiers are loosely tracked by the Russian state. Unlike modern Western armies, there appears to be very little systematic training, no organized maintenance or operations of equipment, and no in-depth links with permanent units and missions. Although there are a few reserve units in the model of the American system, they are small and insufficiently supported by the larger armed forces.

Worryingly for Russia, the mobilization order places responsibility for recruitment on various governors of Russian regions, under a quota system imposed by the Defense Ministry. This demonstrates that there is no large and structured reserve to which the Russian military can turn. Additionally, the decree allows for further appeals and offers bonuses to reservists who show up, much like the incentives offered to convicts in Russian prisons to go and fight.

It will be a Herculean administrative task to provide uniforms and training for 300,000 troops, find qualified leaders at the officer level, equip them effectively, and integrate them with communications and logistics. It will be months before a significant number can be brought into combat. Then, almost certainly, they will become another wave of cannon fodder hurled at the Ukrainian positions.

The Ukrainians, knowing that they could eventually face a much larger force, will prepare their own responses. They will seek (and probably receive from the West) systems capable of neutralizing large numbers of infantry: close-attack aircraft, tanks and artillery, mounted machine guns, precision mortars and long-range surface-to-surface missiles.

The Russians taken off the streets in this mobilization will face a highly motivated, extremely well-armed and very innovative enemy, the Ukrainians. Putin’s ego war continues, and many of those 300,000 poor souls are likely to pay the ultimate price for his madness.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

Putin, his rat and six ways the war in Ukraine could end: Andreas Kluth

• Frustrated and snubbed, Putin is running out of options: Clara Ferreira Marques

Why Putin Can’t Harness Fascism’s Greatest Resource: Leonid Bershidsky

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. A retired Admiral of the United States Navy, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and Dean Emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, he is vice president of global affairs for the Carlyle Group. He is the most recent author of “To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision”.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

Comments are closed.