MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered the Russian army to increase the number of troops by 137,000 to a total of 1.15 million amid Moscow’s military action in Ukraine.
Putin’s decree, which comes into effect on Jan. 1, did not specify whether the military will bolster its ranks by deploying a larger number of conscripts, increasing the number of volunteer soldiers, or using a combination of the two. But some Russian military analysts predicted it would rely heavily on volunteers, a cautious stance that reflects the Kremlin’s concerns about the potential fallout from attempting to raise the draft.
The presidential decree will increase the total number of Russian military personnel to 2,039,758, including 1,150,628 troops. An earlier order placed the number of military personnel at 1,902,758 and 1,013,628 in early 2018, respectively.
The Kremlin has said only volunteer contract soldiers participate in what it calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine, and has rejected claims it was considering a mobilization.
Russian media and non-governmental organizations say the Russian authorities have tried to increase the number of troops involved in the military action in Ukraine by recruiting more volunteers, using private military contractors and even offering amnesty to some detainees in Ukraine. exchange for military service.
Regional authorities have also tried to strengthen ranks by forming volunteer battalions to be deployed in Ukraine.
All Russian men aged 18-27 are required to serve in the military for a year, but a large proportion avoid conscription for health reasons or deferrals granted to university students. The proportion of men who avoid conscription is particularly high in Moscow and other large cities.
The Russian army gathers conscripts twice a year, starting on April 1 and October 1. Putin ordered the drafting of 134,500 conscripts during the last spring draft earlier this year and 127,500 last fall.
In recent years, the Kremlin has emphasized increasing the proportion of voluntary contract soldiers as it sought to modernize the military and improve its capacity. Before the Kremlin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, the Russian army had more than 400,000 contract soldiers, including about 147,000 in the ground forces. The number of conscripts is estimated at about 270,000, with officers and non-commissioned officers accounting for the rest.
Military analysts say that if the campaign drags on in Ukraine, those numbers could clearly be insufficient to support operations in Ukraine, which has set itself the goal of building a 1 million-strong army.
But many observers have warned that widespread mobilization or a massive increase in conscripts could fuel public discontent and destabilize Russia’s political situation. This happened during the separatist wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s, when ill-trained Russian conscripts were sent to war and suffered heavy casualties.
Retired Colonel Viktor Murakhovsky noted that Thursday’s Putin decree reflected pressure to fill the ranks amid military action in Ukraine.
In comments from the online news outlet RBC, he claimed that the Kremlin would likely try to continue to rely on volunteers and predicted that they would account for most of the increase ordered by the Kremlin.
Another Russian military expert, Alexei Leonkov, also said authorities would not extend conscription and increase the number of troops by hiring more contract soldiers.
“The new military equipment has become more complex and people who work with it require at least three years of training,” Leonkov told state news agency RIA Novosti. “Conscription does not help with that, so the number of conscripts will not increase.”
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