The Russian Army is facing “critical shortages” of manpower as it tries to recruit more men to stem a Ukrainian counteroffensive, according to the Ministry of Defence. The war has likely reached another critical turning point with Moscow under increasing pressure to find more troops to send to the front. Already, there have been numerous reports of Putin’s allies visiting prisons to recruit convicts, including murderers.
It seems now that Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as “Putin’s Chef” who is thought to control the brutal Wagner mercenary group, has redoubled those efforts.
Video has been released in which a man who looks like Prigozhin makes a recruitment pitch to prisoners. He makes it clear that he is only looking for “fighters for assault units”.
In the video the man says: “You must have heard of Wagner PMC. This war is difficult, it’s noting like the Afghan or Chechen wars. I have ammunition expenditure two and a half times higher than Stalingrad [in World War II].”
The man goes on to tell the prisoners that no soldier can surrender. A soldier surrendering must carry two grenades with him – presumably to kill the Ukrainian soldiers they would be surrendering to.
He said 50 was “roughly” the upper age limit but if a prisoner was strong, exceptions would be made. The man seems to imply that Wagner was willing to take prisoners with histories of sexual offences.
He added: “We are very careful about those who serve for sexual articles [offences], but we understand mistakes can be made.”
In addition to the efforts to recruit prisoners, Russian military academies are shortening their courses and moving up graduation dates. The MoD believes this is being done so that new graduates can immediately be sent to the frontlines in Ukraine.
It said in a tweet: “Kremlin-linked Russian private military company Wagner Group has been conducting a campaign to recruit Russian convicts for service in Ukraine since at least July. Prisoners have been offered commutation of their sentences as well as cash incentives.
“This has been reinvigorated, with recently posted video highly likely showing Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin making a recruitment pitch to prisoners. In the video, Prigozhin emphasises that he is only seeking ‘fighters for assault units’.
“Separately, Russian military academies are shortening training courses and bringing cadets graduation dates forwards. This is almost certainly so cadets can be deployed to support the Ukraine operation. The impact of Russia’s manpower challenge has become increasingly severe.”
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The MoD said that Russia was likely lacking combat infantry and junior commanders, two positions which would likely be directly on the frontlines of the conflict.
It added: “The acceleration of officer cadets’ training, and Wagner’s demand for assault troops suggests that two of the most critical shortages within the military manning crisis are probably combat infantry and junior commanders.”
Following Russia’s rout in Kharkiv Oblast, Russian military bloggers took to Telegram to criticise Putin for not mobilising the Russian Army. The bloggers do seem to have some influence over the Kremlin as they are a popular source of information about the war for Russians.
Yuriy Podolyaka, a Crimea-based Russian military blogger who has 2.4 million followers, said in a Telegram post last Saturday “to be honest, we’ve been defeated in battle”.
He added: “The current defeat in Kharkiv is the result of the fact that so far many in the defence ministry are trying to ignore the problems that were revealed during the first months of the war.”
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Other military bloggers joined him, calling for the full might of the Russian state to be brought to bear.
However, Putin has a dilemma – a full mobilisation could prove to be extremely unpopular in Russia. Thousands or hundreds of thousands more soldiers would be sent to Ukraine, where the casualty rates have been extremely high on both sides.
Last month, US Officials estimated that Russia has suffered 70 – 80,0000 causalities since the start of the war.
It is unclear if Russia can sustain its “special military operation” without calling for a full mobilisation, but, for now, Putin seems to have deemed declaring war on Ukraine to risky to his position at home.