What does the use of Russian conscripts tell us about the war in Ukraine – POLITICO

Suzanne Freeman is a PhD candidate at MIT Political Science in comparative political and security studies. Katherine Kjellström ElginDr. is a member of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Review.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may never have thought that he would have to admit that conscripts were used in Ukraine – however, the Russian government had to.

Sanctions are a sensitive topic in Russia, and the Kremlin’s use of them shows the extent to which the country’s leaders believe they can hide the costs of war from their own people. But now they implementation is publicWhat does Russia’s continued use of conscripts say about the war and how the conflict might unfold?

The short answer is that the war is not going as smoothly as planned – and the use of conscripts could create more problems for Russia’s security leadership.

Russian servicemen consist of four main groups: officers, (a very small swimming pool of) non-commissioned officers, contract officers and conscripts. Historically, conscription was used in Russia to ensure that a large part of the population receives military training in the case of mobilization for a major war, and cut down the costs associated with maintaining an army large enough to defend the country. They also usually forbidden from overseas deployments. Today, Russia requires all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 27 to register for the service, usually for a period of one year, and then switch to required reserve status.

Currently, most estimate suggests that about 25% of the Russian military is made up of conscripts, with the number varying by service and by unit type. And although Russia has try to advance to a professional army – mainly to enhance training and expertise in the force – the nation must balance professionalization with the need to maintain a large army.

However, public support for conscription is limited in Russia, and conscription deployments are controversial. Conscription soldiers are often less competent than their contracted counterparts, as their length of service limits their training. And while a longer enlistment will lead to a more capable conscript force, Such a decision would be unpopular with the Russian public. As a result, when employed, enlisted service members are often viewed in roles that require less technical expertise, such as logistics, which has demonstrated. pivotal point in Russia’s advance across Ukraine.

In addition, due to widespread, brutal hanging – known as debovshchina – watched since Soviet timesConscripts also have lower morale and unit cohesion. The Russian army has diverse success in reducing its effects, but delays are still a big problem, leading to widespread (and often successful) attempts to get exempt, most often for medical reasons or education.

Furthermore, the use of conscripts in active combat will affect many Russian families and potentially provoke a negative public reaction as casualties increase. During the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s, the Soviet leadership was so concerned with public outcry over casualties and about denying the reality of the war that bring home soldiers killed in sealed zinc coffins. The comparison is probably not far off in anyone’s mind.

Apparently, the pressure at home was strong enough that the Russian government had to admit that conscripts were in Ukraine. Most recently, last Tuesday, Putin promised that no Russian conscripts were used in the war against Ukraine. But just a day later, the Ministry of Defense publicly confirmed that there was Russian conscripts in Ukraine and some were taken prisoner. The Russian government then announced it would return all of these people to their home countries and prevent further deployments. And earlier this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy directly called for conscripts to surrender in a speech about a ceasefire.

Before the official announcement, report about their presence has circulated in Russia, and while information outside Ukraine is difficult to decipher, texting mom and recordings of soldiers crying on the front lines have emerged. Videos of Russian prisoners of war suggest that at least some of them did not know they would fight in Ukraine, and there are reports of low morale among Russian soldiers more widely. Inside Russia, the advocacy group Committee of Russian Soldiers’ Mothers has also raised concerns that conscripts have forced to sign a contract at the border – a reported practice used by Russia in Ukraine in 2014.

If on purpose, the Russian military’s use of conscripts despite all these restrictions is a sign of how easy they think the operation will be. Conscription soldiers are not usually found in elite units, and early assessments of Russian operational plans suggest that Elite units are expected to secure areas quickly and without much resistance. However, with the sudden display of Ukrainian troops, Russia had to push more units into combat and it’s unlikely they would have used conscripts if they didn’t think they were needed – hence the involvement. Theirs can also be an indication of an attempt to replenish troops. Staffing needs with contract soldiers were unsuccessful.

If the Russian government has proposed, their employment in Ukraine is random, then this reflects badly on Russia’s leadership and command capabilities, as well as serious personnel control problems in the military. Russian officers.

The situation also shows the extent to which Russian officials must assume they can control domestic discourse. While the Kremlin controls most of the messages in the media – and has increasingly tightened the information space – bad news from the front is hard to hide. And when mothers cannot reach their sons, or when they begin to return with wounds or in coffins, the reality of war can anger the Russian people, just like in the Soviet War- Afghanistan.

The Russian government is therefore restricted. With the fight more difficult than anticipated, it needed more personnel in combat and support roles. However, if it continues to employ conscripts, especially in any large numbers, this could be seen as a sign of growing military desperation. Pushing more conscripts to Ukraine, or using them after promising to bring them home, not only means that the Russian military is sending incompetent forces to the front; it also risks increasing the manpower costs of war at home, potentially leading to further public outcry, as the Russian people may realize that they have been deceived.

Whatever the reason for the deployment, the use of Russian conscripts in the war in Ukraine is a poor reflection of the Russian military’s capabilities and readiness for the conflict. And while we still don’t know how well Russian conscripts are represented in Ukraine, or in what units they’re fighting, how the Russian military handles them in the future will be a clear indication of their commitment to Russia. their conclusion to the war and how well they thought it went. What does the use of Russian conscripts tell us about the war in Ukraine - POLITICO

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