Russian President Putin is desperate to do all he can to eke out some sham victory in Ukraine. And now it seems the hundreds of thousands of troops he drafted are getting little training and already coming home in body bags.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization of Russian citizens exactly one month ago, he hoped to raise 300,000 troops to stem a string of defeats for his army in Ukraine.
But some of those men called up are already dead. Their swift ends highlight the haste, equipment problems, and disregard for its own troopsPreview Changes (opens in a new tab) that have loomed large in Russia’s broader war effort.
A month between enlistment and death
Putin said last week that, of the men called up in his September 21 announcement, 33,000 had joined their combat units, and 16,000 of them were already fighting. There are no statistics on their casualty rate.
Some, Putin said, are trained for as little as 10 days, leading commentators to conclude they were effectively cannon fodder.
In Western armies, it would likely be impossible to die within a month of enlistment, because training lasts much longer than that.
Recruits to the US Army are trained for many months, while even a conscript in World War I could expect three months of training, per the British Library.
A lack of equipment has also dogged Russia’s newest soldiers. One draftee told The Guardian he was made buy his own gear and was issued a rusted rifle.
“They gave us absolutely no equipment. The army has nothing,” he said.
Marina Miron, an honorary research fellow at the Centre for Military Ethics at King’s College London, told Insider it was likely that “some of those mobilized have been sent to Ukraine without any guidance or training whatsoever.”
Not long after Putin’s announcement, UK intelligence predicted that new troops would suffer heavily.
Russia’s independent Moscow Times newspaper reported that a 27-year-old man died 10 days after being mobilized, leaving his two children without a father. His relatives said he got no additional training before being deployed.
Another, who died on the same day, never held a gun before and had to buy his own equipment, his friends told the outlet.
Radio Free Europe, the US-funded outlet, also reported deaths among newly-mobilized men, swiftly returned to Russia in body bags.
The BBC’s Russian service quoted friends and family of five men, who said they were deployed “like meat.”
The Guardian reported one man was killed two weeks after he got his call-up papers.
Mike Martin, a visiting fellow in War Studies at King’s College London, tweeted last week: “We’ve already seen some of those mobilised civilians dying on the battlefield in Ukraine … with no training … a criminal pointless waste of life.”
William Alberque, who runs the arms control program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Insider that Putin “managed to gather up some tens of thousands of troops, and convert hundreds or more into casualties.”
“Quite a logistics achievement!”
Alberque said the mobilized troops probably could not fight effectively — and may never have been meant to.
“I feel bad for the troops who’ve already hit the front line, as they likely do not have sufficient training or preparation to function effectively on the battlefield.
“Then again, I don’t think that’s Putin’s intention here.
“He’s trying to staunch the bleeding, as it were, by throwing bodies at the frontline and slow the Ukrainian advances down – stabilize the battlefront in blood, as it were.”
Mobilization was a series of failures
Russia has continued to lose territory to Ukraine while attempting to integrate the newest troops, known by the slang term “mobiks.”
The process also took a domestic toll in Russia, with violence against enlistment officials, mass protests, and an exodus of Russians who crossed the border rather than face being called up.
The UK Ministry of Defence said last month the number who left Russia to evade the draft was larger than the initial force that Russia sent to Ukraine.
Russia also admitted it called up some of the wrong people, after reports of recruiters enlisting people with health conditions and no previous military experience.
Mobilization may yet pay off
Miron warned, though, against assuming that that every mobik was doomed. “I do not think that all of those mobilized at this stage will see a similar fate,” she said.
David Betz, a professor in the War Studies department, also at King’s said that so few mobilized troops had arrived that their effective casualty rate was “zero.” “The rate of Russian casualties is grossly exaggerated,” he said.
Miron said that a recent change of commander for the invading force and a stream of mobiks with better training may yet cause problems for Ukraine.
Alberque similarly predicted that Russia could soon have new advantages.
“We have not yet seen cohesive, well-trained, well-equipped units hit the frontline yet,” but warned that could yet follow.
Sinéad Baker is a Senior News Reporter based in Business Insider’s London bureau, focusing on breaking news. Sinéad most often covers global and US politics. She has closely covered the 2020 presidential race and crises in international diplomacy. She has appeared on BBC News and The Guardian’s politics podcast to talk about developments around the world, and has been cited by Congressional hearings. This first appeared in Insider.