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The Russian Military Is Getting Weaker as Ukraine Grows Stronger

Ukraine War
Ukrainian service members fire with a self-propelled howitzer 2S1 Gvozdika, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in unknown location in Kharkiv region, Ukraine May 7, 2022. REUTERS/Serhii Nuzhnenko

What happens now in Ukraine? President Vladimir Putin’s decision to announce a partial mobilization of Russian manpower in service of winning the war against Ukraine represents one of the most important inflection points since the war began.

Putin’s declaration came in the wake of Ukraine’s successful offensive into the Kharkiv region and alongside a second offensive against Russian-held Kherson. At the same time, Russia revealed plans to accelerate a set of referendums in occupied territories that could provide the legal basis for the annexation of large chunks of Ukraine.

Together, the announcements open a new phase of the war, with implications for both the short and long term. 

The Short Term in Ukraine 

In the short term, the mobilization will impact the war mainly by changing time horizons. It will take some time for newly trained Russian recruits and conscripts to reach the front lines and be integrated into formations. An influx of poorly trained and poorly motivated personnel could stabilize thinly defended parts of the line, but won’t result in and of itself in a fundamental change in the balance of the conflict. Russian morale could benefit from the knowledge that help is on the way, although pushing the end of the war to the horizon could have the opposite effect, especially for troops who did not anticipate a long and protracted war. There are some indications, for example, that newly mobilized Russian soldiers are looking to surrender or defect rather than fight in Ukraine. 

On the other hand, the mobilization order may motivate Ukraine, Russia, and the rest of the world to change behavior over the next few months. For Kyiv the situation is clear; for the next few months Ukrainian forces in the field may have a substantial advantage, but as Russia carries out its mobilization that advantage could dwindle. Kyiv thus has strong incentives to take as much advantage as possible of the favorable balance of power it now finds itself in. This may incline Kyiv into a more aggressive, risk-acceptant approach to retaking territory from the Russians. 

For indirect participants in Europe and North America, the Russian mobilization indicates that Moscow does not think that it is winning the conflict, but also that it does not plan to quit soon. This has reaffirmed the commitment of many to continue supporting Ukraine, even as it poses difficult questions about the length and extent of the economic disruptions that have accompanied the conflict.  

Ukraine in The Long Term

In the long term it’s harder to say how the military aspects of mobilization will play out. How long will it take for Russia to reconstitute its combat power into a force that can conduct offensive operations? The short answer is that we don’t know. Reports from Russia indicate that the system of training and mobilization, which had fallen into disrepair since the collapse of the Soviet Union, may have suffered badly during the first months of this conflict. The Russian Army may well have cannibalized its training formations in order to provide a short-term manpower boost at the front. If true, this means that troops will arrive at the front lines with only minimal training, likely incurring huge casualties.  

The Russians have also lost substantial amounts of modern equipment, and while Russian industry can capably turn out low-tech munitions it does not appear to have the capacity to manufacture tanks or aircraft at a rate that can replace losses. Could Russia buy enough equipment to keep its force sufficiently capitalized? Probably not, unless China decides to intervene in the conflict in a major way. Russian purchases of Iranian drones have already made an impact on the war, but are unlikely in quantity or effectively to prove decisive. Russia’s fixed-wing aircraft losses have been extreme, to the degree that Russian aircraft no longer provide basic support for the front lines. 

Thinking about war in the long term also changes the economic equations. Thus far, neither Russia nor the West have been able to inflict enough economic damage on the other to have a useful coercive effect. Over a longer horizon, there is little reason to think that Russia’s anemic economy will be able to outperform the much larger economies of its Western competitors. With the initial shock of the invasion fading, Russia’s ability to use energy as a weapon (and to benefit from high energy prices) also is waning. 

What will Putin Do Next? 

Putin resisted the decision to mobilize Russia’s warmaking capacity, probably out of concern that such a move would undercut support for the war at home. We should probably trust his political instincts; mobilizing is a dangerous move for the regime, which expected to win a war quickly and is now facing both protests and a mass exodus of military-age males.

NATO Ukraine Russia

NATO M270 MLRS. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

On the battlefield, it is not obvious that the mobilization will transform Moscow’s basic problem, which is that Ukrainian forces are growing stronger while Russian forces are growing weaker.  

A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

Written By

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Stoni

    September 28, 2022 at 5:50 am

    How long will Russia manage to keep up economically? There are too little focus on the economic aspects and damage of the Russian society. Russia is a very bad producer of any technology or goods and their only income is from their natural energy sector. Russia has a declining population and special lack of high skilled and educated people will hurt them enormous. All the young people leave the country in their best age, and who is left to replace this gap? Russia is digging their own graveyard both economic, military and through own population. If Putin is not removed within short time it will be catastrophic for the Russian population.

  2. Yrral

    September 28, 2022 at 6:34 am

    Ukraine is being bomb,into the stone age, Ukrainain has not made any significant gains,since the counter offensive to dislodge Russia, Ukraine is being systematic being destroyed Google Ukraine Misery Index

  3. Tom B

    September 28, 2022 at 7:15 am

    Good article. Thanks.

  4. marcjf

    September 28, 2022 at 8:12 am

    The 300,000 are supposed to be recalled professional soldiers, volunteers who signed up for reserve obligations. I’ve no doubt some others will slip through the net, but these are hardly raw recruits.

    I’d say that the balance of forces may have shifted signifcantly in Russia’s favour, particularly now that they will deem parts of the Ukraine to be Russia, and can deploy other forces to those regions.

    Russia has also (per ISW) raised around 20 to 25 Brigades of volunteers (60+ battalions), very few of which have been deployed so far and by now will have had 2 to 3 months’ training.

    Personally I’d say both sides may have lost 100,000 men each and the end game will depend on their ability to replace, re-equip and supply them as well as augment forces.

  5. 403Forbidden

    September 28, 2022 at 9:26 am

    Doesn’t matter who’s gettin’ weaker at the moment.

    What GREATLY matters is how europe & the world will become after winter sets in.

    Once winter kicks in, russia will use nukes to finish off the ukros or remnant ukro forces in order to protect the civilians in donbass.

    In using nukes, russia will be hurling down the gauntlet right at the global fascismo conquistadors.

    Faced with such a situation, the globalist forces will attempt to strike at lesser countries such as iran & china. As in killin’ the fowl to scare the big monkey.

    But then the globalist fascismo forces would be biting off more they could chew. Bad mistake.

    Such a situation will naturally lead to ‘judgement day’ where russia’s mighty ICBM strategic strike force finally gets unleashed on US & NATO. World will embrace the long-awaited armageddon.

    FINISTO FOR THE GLOBALISTS !!!

  6. Gary Jacobs

    September 28, 2022 at 9:57 am

    Yrral,

    As usual… your post proves you need better sources of info. Ukraine had to take an operational pause to consolidate their gains from the last major advance, and prepare for the next advance. They used the Oskil river as a natural protective barrier to do so.

    If you had some non-Putin Troll farm sources, you would know that Ukraine has come out of that pause in the last couple of days, and that Ukraine has established 3 bridgeheads over the Oskil river and are advancing again in the east along multiple axis. Although this time not as rapidly as two weeks ago, speed will likely pick up once Lyman falls back to Ukraine. It remains to be seen how Ukraine decides to deal with Lyman. An actual assault, or encirclement with longer planned squeeze/siege to grind and degrade the Russians.

    If you knew how to read a map, you can see where Ukraine can advance rapidly, and where they may have to pause just by looking at the topography and the rivers. Russia is in the process of being routed in the area between the Oskil river and Zherebets river which both essentially run north to south. Almost all of the cities and towns in that area have fallen to Ukraine in the last couple of days. Ukrainian forces continue to move towards encircling Lyman, Adding Kolodyazi, Nove and Zelena Dolyna …among others… to the liberated.
    Russian sources are reporting that Ukrainian artillery fire is successfully interdicting Russian forces’ last logistics route to Lyman, running through Svatove-Makiivka-Terny north of the settlement.

    Lyman is the last major holdout, and the Russians are putting up more of a stiff defense there…but time is not on their side, and they will lose by death, surrender, or retreat.

    After that, It appears that Russian forces may set up a new defensive line bounded by the Siverskyi Donets [running east to west as a southern line] and Zherebets’ Rivers [running north to south].

    The key remaining cities in the northeast are Svatove and Starobilsk, with Kreminna after those. Once those fall, the last rail lines from Belgorod Russia to Luhansk are effectively cut. Ukraine may have a brief op pause again before deciding where to go after that. Could be Lysychansnk, could head south to Mariupol. Could be both. out of that pause.

    Bottom line: you really should stop making declarative statements as if you know what you are talking about. You still dont. Time to get yourself better sources of information.

  7. Fuc

    September 28, 2022 at 10:56 am

    The iron doll with a cleft top lip caused by spouting a load of bollocks and bull shit from her gargoil gob. Obviously a depraved batching thing in many ways looks like eats too many oats turning her into a white thing.

  8. Goran

    September 28, 2022 at 11:01 am

    Solovyov summed it up during his aired tantrum; people have phones and things can’t be hidden. Daniel Davis and other apologists of Putin’s imperialism can try and whip up some fake narrative about the capabilities of the dwarf’s armada, but the thing those poor kids, kidnapped off the street and out of classrooms, share with the world, is not impressive, to say the least.

    Putin has no more options, yesterday he lost the ability to threaten with cutting off gas supplies, he is forced to waste remaining cash he has on Iranian drones and North Korean ammunition and time is running out. The tourniquets have been applied, the limbs of his dictatorship are dying off and even if Ukrainians decide not to advance but instead decide to fortify existing positions, they win. Azerbaijan waited for 20 years before liberating Nagorno Karabakh, Ukrainians might want to use the same scenario. The prospect of keeping Russia a pariah state, politically and economically separated from the West, over the next five or ten years, might be a more profound win over Putin than storming Donetsk and Crimea by force over the next few months.

  9. Jim

    September 28, 2022 at 11:42 am

    Given the partisan flavor of the author’s prior posts, this article is the most balanced, so far, that I have read.

    Do I agree with every assertion? No.

    But the general posture as an analysis needs to be acknowledged.

  10. Aerozppln

    September 28, 2022 at 12:05 pm

    Gary, you’re doing God’s work

  11. Froike

    September 28, 2022 at 1:27 pm

    Yyral and 403…I enjoy your humorous posts. Your Fearless Leader, Vlad The Impaler has destroyed Russia economically and has set it back to The Stone Age.
    After The War is over, Russia will be forced to pay Hundreds of Billions in reparations. Good thing they have Gas….They’ll have to provide it free of charge for Years!!!
    The best you can hope for, is that someone takes Putin out ASAP. Russia is doomed…and I feel sorry for those trapped in Putin’s Giant Stalag.
    Slava Ukraina…Slava Liberty…Slava Freedom!

  12. Yrral

    September 28, 2022 at 1:35 pm

    Jacobs,I do not measure winning and losing on the battlefield,on the home front matters ,once Ukrainain see the war is bringing on misery too them,they will ask the west,to bring an end to the war through negotiation,that what will bring an end too their misery and when American demand the US to cut funding and pay for 10 of billion of disaster related that will happen in Florida,and has happened earlier,Biden will be force to make Ukrainain negotiate,loss of Ukrainain should blame their misery on Zelensky strategy,no way in hell will Ukrainain defeat Russia,until they are willing to march on Moscow Google Ukraine Misery Index

  13. Gary Jacobs

    September 28, 2022 at 3:43 pm

    Yrral,

    Clearly you dont want to measure the battlefield because Russia is losing so badly. As well, Ukrainians Are already living with misery caused by Russia. They are willing to endure short term pain to have long term gain of being free of Russian Imperialist fantasies that seek to wipe them out.

    As for the US, we have a $4 Trillion federal budget. $10 Billion for Ukraine, is a small price to pay to defeat Russia. There’s been a few billion more to Russia’s neighbors like Poland and the Baltics. Money well spent.

    Some of that will come back to us in the form of HUGE military sales to Poland and other countries that see how much better our gear is than Russia’s, along with a massive increase in LNG sales from the US now that Russia has cut off gas pipes, and Germany is about to get 3 floating LNG terminals [2 before the end of this year] along with building two larger facilities on land

    A bit of emergency federal emergency funds help out Florida is also a drop in the bucket, which also has a state budget with emergency funds… The US economy generates $17 Trillion GDP per year.

    Stew on that for a bit.

  14. Tamerlane

    September 29, 2022 at 2:08 am

    Gary: “Ukraine had to take an operational pause to consolidate their gains from the last major advance, and prepare for the next advance. They used the Oskil river as a natural protective barrier to do so.”

    Ha. If you weren’t neck deep in Ukrainian propaganda you’d be able to see that this for what it is: a mere conclusion of an opening salvo. You are so utterly naive here, particularly on your focus of the minuscule dollar aid sent to Ukraine. That isn’t the problem for the U.S. What is the problem, a neutral observer would ask this American, I’m happy to tell you—the problem is that the U.S. is compelling a binary choice of “us v. them” on the world, and that choice will and is leading to 80% of the world’s population choosing to oppose the U.S. and its position as economic titan of the world. If you think the global pain inflicted by the Fed raising rates will lessen this movement, I have some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you. This bodes incredibly badly for the U.S. and our strategic position in the long run, long after Russia has escalated to the point where math becomes the factor and Ukraine is finished. The greatest loser here is the United States, regardless of whether Ukraine prevails or not—that’s a secondary issue here.

  15. Gary Jacobs

    September 29, 2022 at 11:15 am

    Tamerlane:

    LoL, people like you make me laugh. I live in San Diego, a military town just a few miles from Pendleton. I sit with actual Marines and discuss tactics and strategy. The operational pause at a natural line like the Oskil is basic military tactics/strategy, especially for a force like Ukraine’s trying to take on the Russian military while liberating their own country … as opposed to Russia’s scorched earth tactics..

    Your attempts to scoff at such a basic situation says a lot more about your need for better sources of information, and a different approach to this war altogether…than it says about what I posted.

    As for the strength of the dollar and the economics of it all… One must give the devil his due and acknowledge that Russia has done a better job of propaganda to shift blame on us and that has resonated in other parts of the world – and with people like you. That doesnt make it right. As well, the US should have been gradually raising interest rates a long while ago, as well as not cancelling Keystone XL, among other pipelines…so long before renewable energy and its long term storage tech was ready for base load prime time.

    I could go on for days like this, but for now I digress…

    Bottom line: the US has made plenty of mistakes along the way…and yet still the vast majority of the blame for what is happening in the world right now is the naked aggression of Russia.

  16. John

    September 29, 2022 at 11:17 am

    Putin is planning to escalate including a nuclear strike.
    Our nuclear forces need to be on ready alert including our bombers and tactical nuclear fighters.
    Stratcom needs to be superprepared. Britain and France too.

  17. Yrral

    September 29, 2022 at 2:02 pm

    Only thing Ukrainain mens got a history of beating is women,so do Russian,the US GDP is actually 21 trillion,maybe the US should fund helping Ukrainain get out of abuses relationship

  18. Gary Jacobs

    September 29, 2022 at 4:57 pm

    Yrral… lol… it’s ironic to me that after failing to understand anything going on with the actual war, or geopolitics, or economics, you still feel motivated to post by complaints of domestic violence. And then you complain about both sides.

    Why bother to continue to post at that point? There’s a war going on.

    A personal anecdote: every Ukrainian I have ever know, and there have been many…are members of large loving families. I’m sure there are exceptions in the wider population… but your notion that this is somehow a general rule sounds like it is a level of bias on your part.

  19. Tamerlane

    September 29, 2022 at 5:18 pm

    Gary:

    People like you, but for the deadly seriousness of the jingoistic insanity you spread, would make me laugh.

    I have been an officer in our armed forces, and I also converse almost daily with GO level staff officers. I’m not sure what Gunny Snuffy told you over a beer, but that is not strategy and what you are spouting certainly isn’t. I’ve met a handful of marines who are even conversant at a strategic level, as that isn’t their primary role and their officer corps is correspondingly thin.

    The Russians, like many armies before them, used the river as a defensive line, and withdrew behind it to consolidate. If this is a “operational pause”, when will we see the resumption of the offensive? Hint—we won’t, new defensive lines where the Russians aren’t outnumbered 10/12:1 have been prepared there and the line stabilized. This is just basic military science. As opposed to Russia’s scorched earth tactics? You really are that naive? The only reason Ukraine has used such tactics to a lesser degree is because of their great disadvantage in both heavy weapons and increasingly, manpower. Yet we have seen for 6 months the use of scorched earth tactics by the Ukrainians akin to those used by the Germans in 1943-44 in the east, turning every urban setting into a mini-total war.

    “Shift the blame on us”? Who is “us”? As an American, I certainly am not part of your Ukrainian cabal. You do not speak for Americans.

    No, the Fed ought not have “gradually raised interest rates”, the Fed should not be artificially manipulating interest rates and creating malinvestment in the economy at all. This should be a market function, not something the Treasury and Fed manipulate for their policy preferences.

    Russia is to blame for invading Ukraine. Sure. We would do the same were Mexico to attempt to join a Chinese military alliance in TJ. This war is occurring because this administration refused to acknowledge that Ukraine in NATO was an unacceptable and existential security threat to Russia, and that they would act up to whatever level of force is necessary including total war to prevent this from occurring. Merely acknowledging Ukraine as neutral and ensuring regional federalism within its government would have prevented this conflagration, but, people like you seek war. As someone who’s seen it, I can only comment on the asininity of such a perspective.

  20. Gary Jacobs

    September 29, 2022 at 7:13 pm

    Tamerlane,

    As much as I enjoy regular chats with Marine officers around San Diego, I have been to DC on the regular to think tank discussions, and had the chance to speak directly to generals and diplomats. I love the town hall style format, and the mingling afterwards. Of course my favorite is AIPAC because that actually involves lobbying congress in the days after the informational meetings.

    You asked when the new offensive will begin, and in another post under this article I mentioned it already has. The Ukrainians are in the process of liberating the area between the Oskil and Zherebets rivers, and they are encircling Lyman just as I said they were likely to do. 

    If you think I rely too much on Ukrainian sources, you would be wrong.  For all the propaganda the Russian nationalist Military-bloggers spew… they tend to be quite a bit more accurate when they reach the hysterical phase as the Russian military is losing, and the Ukrainians are advancing…which is exactly what is happening as I type.

    Russian correspondent Semyon Pegov of “WarGonzo” says that Ukrainian forces have broken through in the Stavky area of the Lyman pocket, cutting off the Drobysheve-Torske road (and the BARS-13 unit’s main exit route).   

    Pro-Russian outlet “Rybar” also now saying the Ukrainian military has completed a physical encirclement of Lyman and several surrounding settlements – trapping a significant number of Russian troops in a pocket.

    Now it will be interesting to see how the Ukrainians proceed. The Russians were fond of bragging about their ‘cauldrons’ as they encircled a town or a troop concentration and pounded them with artillery, MLRS or thermobaric weapons until death and/or demoralization+surrender. We’ll see if the Ukrainians decided to return a version of that favor, or handle the encirclement a different way. Strong possibility the Russians are using Stalin-esque blocking forces to murder their own troops who try to surrender, or retreat too soon.

    Once Lyman falls, the Russian effort at Bakhmut and Soledar becomes even more stupid than it already is…and Ukraine has opened the way to go after liberating Lysychansk from multiple axes.

    I dont doubt that the Russians are trying to set up a better defense further to the east at Lysychansk…and it will be interesting to see what the Ukrainians decide to do after the Lyman situation is complete. The best suggestion I have heard so far is to freeze the line there in the east and not go into Lysychansk because the Russian lines are far thinner in southern Zaporizhia…and taking Mariupol and Melitopol would be a better strategic maneuver to cut the land route from Crimea to Donbas and allow Ukraine to head west to from there squeeze the Russians from 3 sides all the way to Kherson. Considering how much equipment and ammo they have captured from the Russians in the last month, The Ukrainians can even use internal GLOCs to transfer troops and equipment from Lyman-Izyum area to head to the south.

    Bottom line: you shouldnt underestimate others just because you served, and you perceive things as ‘jingoistic’. You made a bunch of statements in your recent post that I have already answered under this very article…among others.

    I could get into dissecting your econ comments, but that’s for another time.

  21. Daniel H

    October 1, 2022 at 1:28 am

    Gary – Liman is holding and the Russians did it with something like 1:10 numerical inferiority. Besides, the AFU’s strategic goal was to reach Svatovo, not just take Liman so it’s a complete failure for them already.

    But more broadly, look at where the situation currently points. Russia has essentially been fighting NATO – or more accurately NATO has been fighting Russia with Ukrainian bodies – with a small portion of its total force and Ukraine has suffered enormous casualties. All while operating under the constraint of a “Special Military Operation”. That status will certainly change as the 4 eastern regions become part of Russia officially. What happens when Russia really takes the gloves off and start conducting war under the doctrine they’ve trained for? I’m sure you can imagine.

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