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Putin Has A Problem: Russian Frontline Units are Running Out of Men in Ukraine

TOS-1A from the Russian Military.

On day 138 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, large-scale fighting has largely stalled while the Russian military continued with its operational pause.

The situation in the Donbas

The Russian military continues with a theater-wide operational pause, but it is still using long-range fires to harass the Ukrainians.

“As of Sunday 10 July, Russian artillery bombardments continued in the northern Donbas sector, but probably without any major territorial advances. Ukrainian forces continued to apply localised pressure to the Russian defensive line in North East Kherson oblast, also probably without achieving territorial gain,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.

“This operational pause has been largely characterized by Russian troops regrouping to rest, refit, and reconstitute; heavy artillery fire in critical areas to set conditions for future ground advances; and limited probing attacks to identify Ukrainian weakness and structure appropriate tactical responses. As ISW has previously noted, an operational pause does not mean a complete cessation of hostilities, rather that ongoing hostilities are more preparative in nature,” the Institute for the Study of War assessed in its latest operational update on the war.

Russian Casualties 

Over the last 48 hours, the rate of Russian casualties has slowed down considerably, reflecting the operational pause that is in effect across the theater.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Monday, Ukrainian forces have killed approximately 37,400 Russian troops (and wounded approximately thrice that number), destroyed 217 fighter, attack, and transport jets, 188 attack and transport helicopters, 1,645 tanks, 838 artillery pieces, 3,828 armored personnel carriers, 247 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 15 boats and cutters, 2,696 vehicles and fuel tanks, 109 anti-aircraft batteries, 676 tactical unmanned aerial systems, 66 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems, and 155 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses.

Force Generation Woes 

In its daily estimate of the war, the British Ministry of Defense touched on the situation in the Donbas but mainly focused on the force generation issues that the Russian military is having.

Simply put, Russian frontline units are running out of men. Despite the vast manpower pool of Russian, the Russian military can’t really tap on that because Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin advisers haven’t declared war on Ukraine and thus haven’t mobilized the reserves. As a result, the Kremlin has been trying to fool or bribe men into service with disinformation and huge bonuses (despite the unprecedented sanctions, Moscow has been making billions from the high energy prices created by the war).

But thus far, the Kremlin’s efforts to generate more troops have had mixed success.

According to the Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR), the Ukrainian military agency, the Kremlin has given the go-ahead to private military companies, such as the infamous Wagner Group, to recruit more men for combat service in Ukraine. The GUR assesses that these private military companies are pushing hard on recruitment to make up for the Russian losses on the frontlines.

In a true sign of desperation, Putin has even given the green light for these private military companies to recruit from prisons and form penal battalions. Prisoners, irrespective of their crimes, are being offered full amnesty in exchange for volunteering for combat in Ukraine. Moreover, the Russian military is setting up ad hoc units made up of old men.

The Russian people are starting to notice the dire situation.

“In late June, a Russian-language media agency based in Russia’s far eastern Lake Baikal region uploaded a video in which the wives of soldiers from the Eastern Military District’s (EMD’s) 36th Combined Arms Army directly appealed to a local politician for their husbands to be returned home from service in Ukraine,” the British Military Intelligence stated.

A unit that has spent almost five months on the frontlines is in no way combat effective.

“One woman claimed that personnel of EMD’s 5th Separate Guards Tank Brigade are ‘mentally and physically exhausted’, because they have been on active combat duty since the launch of the ‘special military operation’ on 24 February 2022. The lack of scheduled breaks from intense combat conditions is highly likely one of the most damaging of the many personnel issues the Russian MoD is struggling to rectify amongst the deployed force,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.