Low impact of 147,000 Russian draftees, Kremlin’s aim in taking WSJ journalist hostage
Evan Gershkovich leaves the court building in Moscow, where the decision was made to keep him in Lefortovo, March 30, 2022 (Photo:REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina)
While Russia slightly increased the number of conscripts in the latest draft, it’s improbable that they will be deployed to the Ukrainian front right away, US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in its report for March 30.
Meanwhile, the Russian Federation may be anticipating a fresh exchange with the United States following the arrest of Wall Street Journal Moscow correspondent Evan Gershkovich.
Russian dictator Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the spring conscription in Russia on March 30, which involves the enlistment of 147,000 draftees for military service from April 1 to July 15. According to ISW, Russia typically conducts two conscription cycles annually, with the spring wave usually comprising 134,000 young men.
Analysts believe that Russia may use Belarus’ training potential (military ranges) to train 13,000 more draftees in military affairs than in previous years. According to Ukraine, no more than 9,000-10,000 Russian military personnel could have been trained in Belarus in recent months. ISW has observed similar figures, with Russian forces training up to 12,000 military personnel in Belarus.
“Satellite imagery indicates that Russian forces training in Belarus at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground recently redeployed to Russia in mid-March, freeing up space for new Russian trainees. The new conscripts will not increase Russian combat power in the short term, as Russian conscripts must undergo months of training and service before they see combat,” ISW wrote.
ISW analysts predict that Putin won’t deploy new conscripts in Ukraine due to concerns about the stability of his regime. Andrey Kartapolov, the chairman of the Defense Committee of the State Duma of Russia, recently announced that conscripts from the 2023 spring wave won’t be sent to the occupied territories of Ukraine.
Putin’s use of mobilized forces during the winter-spring period of 2022 caused social tension in Russia. He is unlikely to risk the stability of his regime by sending newly recruited soldiers to the front. Even in response to Ukraine’s counterattack in Kharkiv Oblast, he sent mobilized soldiers to stabilize the front line, although conscripts can fight more effectively at the end of their training than civilian reservists.
The new wave of conscription in Russia may decrease its ability to train reservists and other personnel recruited through hidden mobilization campaigns. This is because involving Russia in training conscripts who will not fight in 2023 takes away the opportunity to prepare reservists and “volunteers” for the front.
However, the Kremlin may require conscripts recruited in the spring of 2022 to sign military contracts to replenish its combat force in Ukraine. The success of this strategy is yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, ISW analysts suggest that the arrest of Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich in Yekaterinburg for espionage may be a response by the FSB to the arrest of Russian citizen Sergey Cherkasov in the United States. The Kremlin may use Gershkovich’s arrest to try to pressure the United States into making concessions, possibly by attempting a prisoner exchange like the one in December 2022 involving U.S. basketball player Brittany Griner and Russian illegal arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The FSB claims Gershkovich was gathering state secrets for the United States on the activities of a Russian military-industrial complex enterprise.
ISW is focusing on the place where Gershkovich was arrested, Yekaterinburg, which houses 12 Russian defense companies that manufacture various military equipment, including self-propelled artillery, optical systems for military aircraft, and enriched uranium. Notably, Uraltransmash, Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant, and Uralmash are among these companies.
It is unknown which military-industrial enterprise is associated with the FSB’s statements about Gershkovich’s arrest, but many of them produce equipment that Russian forces have used in Ukraine. The scarcity of microchips in Russia makes them a target for smuggling and evading sanctions. The equipment shortage limits Russia’s ability to fight in Ukraine, so the Kremlin is mobilizing its military-industrial complex without a full economic mobilization, ISW wrote.
ISW also said in its latest report that representatives of the Western military community believe that Russia’s Wagner private military company and the regular Russian army have likely suffered significant casualties in the area of Bakhmut, which will further hinder Russia’s advance on the city.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley reported on March 29 that Wagner has around 6,000 professional mercenaries and 20,000-30,000 “newcomers,” mostly former convicts, fighting in the Bakhmut area.
ISW predicts that losses in manpower will continue to hinder Russian offensive operations in the Bakhmut area and on the wider battlefield.
Overall, significant losses are likely to threaten the ability of the mercenary company to maintain its influential role among Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
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