“Vladimir Putin can call up all the troops he wants, but Russia has no way of getting those new troops the training and weapons they need to fight in Ukraine any time soon.”
So says Brad Lendon, CNN’s chief military affairs analyst. He’s not alone in his opinion. Other well-known commentators and military logistics experts have said much the same, pointing to the massive equipment losses suffered by Russian forces and chronic shortages of ammunition and supplies.
And, so far as that goes, it’s quite true: Despite the projected recall of some 300,000 former soldiers to active duty, there’s no effective way to put that many warm bodies on the front lines overnight. More importantly, the Russian army has suffered major logistics problems arming, feeding, and even commanding the troops presently in the combat zone; adding new formations to the far end of an already overstressed supply pipeline would actually make the present situation worse.
Which is why that’s not what’s about to happen.
The Russians have an army that is primarily staffed by one-year enlisted conscripts, each performing compulsory service. A few remain in the army after their year is finished, which usually grants them instant promotion to starshina or praporshchik (the equivalent of a sergeant or warrant officer). This is in sharp contrast to the practice of most western armies, where promotion usually requires vastly more experience. The difference is apparent; most Russian soldiers are relatively untrained, and fit only for duty under direct supervision. This results in a perpetual shortage of skilled mechanics, not to mention armorers, gunsmiths, and specialists in every job from water purification to food preparation.
Tomorrow morning, it would be entirely reasonable to presume that fifty thousand skilled mechanics, cooks, and other specialists who have already been through basic training are about to receive a personalized envelope from the government, inviting them to contribute their services once again where they are most needed.
There exist two other methods of rotating in reservists that have been practiced with tremendous success by the Russian army, and before them by the similarly structured Soviets.
The first of these and by far the most straightforward is the formation of units composed entirely of reservists, which are then equipped with long-warehoused antique gear and sent to hold positions in inactive areas, permitting the former tenants to advance to the combat zone. For example, the 2nd Guards, presently holding near Moscow, could easily be relieved of their garrison duties and sent forward to replace the presently severely degraded 1st Guards Army, now fighting near Kharkiv.
However, it’s equally likely that recalled veteran personnel will simply be sent forward as replacements for use in the existing formations, which would make it unnecessary to undertake the far more dangerous maneuvers necessary to replace entire combat units on the front line.
Using either method, it is likely that the combat forces engaged in Ukraine would see a near immediate measurable improvement in combat effectiveness. More effective, however, would be the influx of trained and experienced logistics specialists discussed above. This alone will serve less as a direct increase and more as a force multiplier, one badly needed by the presently overburdened Russian forces.
Against these factors, however, militates the single biggest chronic problem endemic to the Russian army: Corruption. No number of mechanics, however skilled, can repair a vehicle when their tools and spare parts have been sold on the black market.
What’s about to happen in Russia and Ukraine is anyone’s guess. Putin’s power appears shaky from outside, and protests are escalating; however, thus far the population remains under tight control. About the only thing we can know for certain is something that happens in every war: An awful lot of people who don’t want to be there are about to die.
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