Faced with a series of setbacks in eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilisation” of Russia’s reservist forces on Wednesday. But some analysts say the move will have only a limited impact on the front lines of the conflict.
‘More prisoners and more dead’
Putin’s latest move has a public relations goal as well as a strategic one, said Jeff Hawn, an expert on Russian military affairs. “The main target of Putin’s allocution is the West – he wants to show he can up the ante. But by sticking to a ‘partial’ mobilisation, he also tries to mitigate internal backlash,” said Hawn, a consultant for the New Lines Institute think tank. Moreover, Putin want to show the world that he commands an army with enough reservists to continue fighting.Over the past several weeks, the Ukrainian army has routed Russian forces from the Kharkiv region of northeast Ukraine and has forced them to retreat even from areas of Luhansk in the Donbas.Mobilising more troops is key if Russia wants to resist the Ukrainian advance, Fasola said. “The addition of 300,000 men is a necessary step. Otherwise the prospect of losing the war was becoming very real.”But the impact of this mobilisation may be limited, said Hawn, noting that it is really “just making official the unofficial shadow mobilisation” that has been going on for months.”The largest impact that this partial mobilisation will have is more prisoners and more dead, because this military doctrine doesn’t address the fundamental problem of the Russian army,” Hawn said.These reservists “will receive only short training sessions and won’t have any prior experience in fighting alongside the men already on the front. And [they] don’t know the commanding officers,” Hawn noted, adding that this will only undermine the cohesion of Russia’s fighting force.But there is one notable difference with this latest decree: Reservists refusing to head to the front will now face lengthy prison terms of between 10 and 15 years.Indeed, Putin’s call for Russians to defend the country from the onslaught from the West may be having little effect in whipping up patriotic fervor. Protests against the mobilisation announcement erupted across Russia on Wednesday, with more than 1,200 people detained, according to local independent monitoring group OVD-Info.Many Russians were observed trying to leave the country as soon as the tougher penalties for those who refuse to take up arms were announced. As Turkish journalist Ragıp Soylu said on Twitter, “direct flights between Moscow and Istanbul or Yerevan are fully booked”.
Reservists without weapons?
“Russia is sticking with a military doctrine of overwhelming the enemy with numbers,” Fasola said. “Moscow saw it work in Georgia (in 2008) and in Ukraine in 2014 and thought it was still a valid option. But this time seems to be different.”Moreover, sending more reservists does not address some of the Russian military’s fundamental weaknesses. “This doctrine does not make it possible to compensate for the shortcomings of the Russian army brought to light by this war,” Hawn observed. Facing off against Ukrainians armed with modern Western weapons and officers influenced by NATO strategists, he said the Russians appear ill-equipped and poorly commanded.Above all, Russia may be facing a problem supplying the necessary materiel. The Russian military sector has been affected by both the war and Western sanctions, Fasola said. Equipping 300,000 new troops will likely involve relying on outdated stockpiles of weapons that may prove ineffective against the technologies Ukraine is now using.Putin has already said he wants to increase the production of arms. But that takes time, Fasola said.“I would say that bringing the soldiers to the front might take a month or so,” he estimated. “Much less [time] than producing more weapons – which could lead to an awkward situation for the army, where the soldiers are available but not fully equipped.”This article was translated from the original in French.