The Dysfunction of Russian Mobilization Is Real Yet Doesn't Matter (That Much)
Don't miss the forest for the trees
The Russian mobilization will be messy. All the dire aspects of mobilization that you observed in Ukraine — expect to see them repeated in Russia.
There will be significant draft dodging, particularly in the Caucasus there will also be some level of collective resistance to conscription. Many thousands will receive woefully inadequate training, and some none at all. Plenty of men who are actually unfit (drunks, frail or meek) will be impressed in a hurry to meet the quotas, and some positively ancient ex-officers who were forced out almost 15 years ago will be reactivated.
You are going to see scenes of indiscipline and insubordination. At least a few officers will be shot up by troubled conscripts (the news will be suppressed), and in a few cases there will be scenes of collective insubordination as units film themselves demanding better equipment and conditions.
Many will receive firearms and vehicles that are 50 years old and in sketchy condition. Many will not receive the full “Ratnik” gear that a Russian soldier is supposed to have. Many will be left to procure their own body armor and optics (binoculars, NV…), many more will have to get their own gloves and sleeping bags. The most neglected units will even have to buy their own comms as they find what the army issued them with doesn’t work. And don’t even get me started about bandages and first kits…
One major problem that will be discovered is the lack of housing. All manner of public buildings will be appropriated, but the unlucky ones will find themselves housed in dilapidated military facilities not maintained since the 1980s or even camping.
If many past 300,000 are mobilized the next big problem that will rear its head is a shortage of leadership. Many small units will end up led by junior lieutenants —draftees given 3 to 8-month crash courses, by military academy cadets commissioned before graduation, or by oldtimers cut by the Serdyukov restructuring who have been out of the military for over a decade. The most unlucky ones will find themselves led by college graduates made to sit through “Reserve Officer Training” classes during their studies, albeit some outfits may avoid that fate by picking their own leaders among themselves.
Once deployed, some units will even find out that while ammo is plentiful, the command frequently fails to keep to a regular schedule where delivery of food is concerned.
The mobilization will be improvised and chaotic. It will be neither the picture of Germanic efficiency nor of American abundance.
The fact that mobilization is being called 7 months into the war, rather than when the war started, will it make it even more improvised and chaotic. This is due to three major reasons.
1. Unlike in February and March when they were making gains, by now the Russians find themselves on the back foot. Thus at least tens of thousands of men have to be sent in a matter of weeks to stabilize the Oskil front which limits the amount of training they can be given.
2. Some of the best reserve equipment has already been reactivated to replace the huge equipment losses that Russia suffered in a very foolish way in the first few weeks of the war. Thus it is no longer available for the mobiki.
3. The decision to fight with just the professional component of the military for so long placed such pressures on the professionals that many brigades are now deployed to Ukraine in full, with barely anyone left behind on base in Russia to receive and train the mobiki. Initially, each brigade contributed up to 2 battalion tactical groups, with some officers and specialists left behind to serve as the skeleton for a 3rd BTG that would be composed of conscripts and mobiki. However as there was no mobilization and conscripts were made non-deployable these NCOs and officers were gradually transferred to Ukraine to alleviate the manpower crisis. This means that in some brigades there won’t be enough officers on hand to give the new arrivals anything but the most general and superficial training, and they won’t receive proper mentorship until after they’re already in Ukraine.
All of these issues are real. None of these issues are made up. All of these issues are significant and consequential. And yet none of these problems are remotely as consequential as the fact that the Russian war effort is getting at least 300,000 reinforcements.
Will the mobilization be a chaotic, improvised mess? It’s Eastern Europe, what do you think?
The mobilization will have numerous deficiencies, and the forces raised will have numerous deficiencies— and in the end, it won’t matter. It will matter on the margins, but not fundamentally. There is no such thing as a perfect force. Every army ever has been less than ideal, it’s only a matter of gradient. A deficient 300K force is still a lot better than no force at all.
(Text continues after tweets.)
In the spring I was saying that the Russian failure to dismember Ukraine early on will allow Kiev to start standing up numerous new forces. The retort I received was that this wouldn’t matter because these forces would not be trained. I pointed out that training only took so long and that in a couple of months new trained forced would also start appearing.
The retort I received to this was that the Russians were supposedly killing Kiev troops at such a high rate that this also wouldn’t matter. Supposedly the Russians could kill Ukrainians faster than Kiev could put them in uniform, or else Ukraine would physically run out of men, or else the Ukrainian army would suffer a general morale breakdown over the level of losses.
This was a cartoonish and evidence-free idea. As it was, it was precisely the Russians who found themselves in the grips of a manpower crisis first, and having to man secondary sections of the front (Khakov) with overstretched second-rate troops, while the Ukrainian confidence only grew alongside their increasing numerical superiority and the commensurate rise in the sturdiness of their lines.
Early on, numerous observers focused on Ukraine’s Teritorial Defense battalions being sent to Donbass front without training and only lightly armed and then being shredded — but totally losing sight of the fact that this was absolutely the correct call.
The Territorials suffered and ultimately broke, but until then they had propped up the front, plugged gaps, and prevented breakthroughs that could turn into fast-paced disasters. They helped slowly exhaust Russian elan and they bought valuable time during the most critical stage of the war, buying Kiev the space to train up troops of much better quality in the rear.
They suffered, but the payoff for their suffering was outsized. Sometimes in a war that is what you have to do. Sometimes the logic of war calls for sending men into situations that are extremely unfavorable for them (bloodbaths) if the payoff for success — no matter the price — will be outsized.
War is not for the faint of heart. I am faint of heart, that’s why I don’t start wars. But if you do start a war, or if you find yourself in one, then you better not sin against the logic of the God of War.
Russia’s position right now isn’t as vulnerable, but the same principle still applies. There is a certain number of troops (20,000-50,000) whom are needed urgently and who can do more good untrained right now, than trained but three months from now. As Chuikov said: ‘Time is blood.’
All the Siberians from the Central and Eastern Military Districts have been transferred to Kherson leaving the Western District (which also seems to be the most prone to getting itself into catastrophic trouble) overstretched on the Oskil and Seversky Donetsk. The result is that Ukrainians continue to hold the initiative around Lyman and are also expanding another bridgehead to the north of Kupyansk. It’s cheaper to prop up the front with mobiki now, than losing ground and then having to retake it all over again.
All of this to say that all deficiencies of mobilization that you will hear about have to be taken in context. The context being that perfect troops are better than deficient troops, but that deficient troops right now are much better than perfect troops two years from now.
Ideally Russian mobiki would be perfectly trained, equipped and led, but if that means that you can’t get them until 2024 then they’re not that impactful, are they?
There will be a temptation on the part of people who are rooting for Russia to minimize the FUBAR of Russian mobilization.
And there will be a temptation on the part of those rooting against Russia (let’s be real, few of its supporters are rooting for Ukraine as such) to conclude that because Russian mobilization has its flaws that it won’t change anything. (In fact, that is what I heard scholars Michael Kofman and Robert Lee conclude who really should know better.)
We also must not lose sight of the fact that Russian realities, just like Ukrainian realities, may not be the same as American or Swiss realities.
Some dysfunction is already built in by the virtue of being Eastern European, and besides, the systems — as well as the expectations of the troops — might differ.
For example, if you have a great training program for troops available, but you don’t run them through it, then you’re being derelict. But what if you don’t have an amazing training to give them in the first place? Then dragging things out could very well just be a waste of everyone’s time.
The US has a centralized training system where a few specialized facilities do nothing but boot camp and handle the initial intense training for all the rest of the army.
That is a bottleneck that Russia with a much different structure of military can not afford.
The Russians send raw recruits straight to their final units. There they receive training that in the long run is not worse than a boot camp, but certainly is not as condensed and intense.
Moreover as I explained, with so many of the officers at the front, the training they can receive on base in Russia is probably even less valuable than would be in peacetime.
Therefore it must be understood that by cutting their training time in Russia short, much less is being sacrificed than one might assume.
Also, let’s be clear about one thing. While trained troops are far more capable than untrained troops, it would be a mistake to think that a 3-month boot camp is what makes the difference between a trained and untrained soldier.
In reality, a fully trained soldier would probably require boot camp, plus at least a few years of service, and possibly even some combat experience.
Most time in basic training is actually spent building up discipline and cohesion. After outdoor skills and physical training, comparatively little time is left for marksmanship and small-unit tactics.
The main purpose of basic training is actually to produce troops that are easier for officers to control and to use. And also to increase the survival odds of troops during their first 3 months of the front when they are at their most green.
However, if a soldier survives the first 3 months of the combat zone then whether that soldier went through basic training becomes something of only the most marginal significance.
Whatever the deficiencies of training, equipment and leadership the Russian mobiki receive turn out to be, these factors will be something that affect their efficiency (how well they fight) but not their effectiveness (whether they fight or not).
I’m actually seeing observers who are half expecting that Russians not having ideal equipment and not being volunteers will cause them to defect, surrender and desert en masse.
That is so surreal because there is so little precedent in history books for anything like that.
Even the esteemed scholar Michael Kofman (let’s give him credit where it is due, up until now he has called the war as accurately as Strelkov), believes that the mobiki not being volunteers will have massive repercussions for their morale and their military value.
That is such a strange thing to say. Once you are hiding from loitering munitions in a damp trench the last thing that has any bearing on your morale is whether you were dumb enough to actually volunteer for this mess or not. What determines morale in such conditions isn’t who felt more idealistic 6 months ago, but basic stuff like who has a pair of dry socks, and whether your lieutenant has a telephone line to the regimental artillery.
(In fact volunteers might be among the most shaken in such conditions because their volunteering might speak to their not knowing what war is and arriving with unrealistic expectations.)
Look, I’ve read about the conditions that awaited Red Army recruits in 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942. Whatever deficiency of training, equipment and leadership await the Russian mobiki in 2022 they won’t be even 5% as bad.
And yet, even the Russian troops of 1939-42 already fought incredibly fiercely. They weren’t well led so they didn’t fight particularly well, but they always fought hard. There were desertions and surrenders on the margins but far fewer than you would expect given the catastrophic conditions, and never close to a point where they would threaten ability of the army to stay in the field and continue to offer resistance. (Which is also why I was extremely skeptical of the strange claim that a historically puny number of Ukrainian (Little Russian) daily KIA would cause some kind of majestic breakdown of their forces.)
And here’s another thing — they even fought hard through abysmal morale and habitual indiscipline. I get the feeling that because Stalin’s Soviet Union was a totalitarian state and because this state did deport many of its soldiers to gulags or execute them that there is an impression that the Red Army was some kind of a robot force where officer word was law and the troops got wobbly in the knees at the mere sight of a commissar. The reality was just the opposite. It was a force that was downright anarchic. The other side of the coin to executions, gulags, and penal battalions for the worst (repeat) offenses, was that for numerous infractions the Red Army was far more lenient than Western armies — it simply had to be, due to the sheer frequency with which they were occuring.
This is to say that an Eastern European military bureaucracy might not exist at the same level of order and functionality as a Western one. However, this lack of tidiness and the overall higher level of FUBAR does not mean that they’re going to start running away from fights. The science of how to take men who are not jumping for joy at the thought of war and set them up to fight anyway is at least 5000 years old. It generally takes far greater stresses and oversights for any major breakdown of such a force than people tend to imagine.
Even the crucified Ukrainian Territorial Defense battalions when filming their combat refusal videos were not demanding that they be returned to their warm beds, but to return to the fight with more heavy weapons support, non-cowardly leadership, and with a brief respite.
It’s good to be consistent. People who were very attentive of compromises in Ukrainian force generation and deployment probably shouldn’t blind themselves to compromises and deficiencies of the Russian mobilization either.
And people who didn’t say a word about the often messy and improvised nature of Kiev’s mobilization are probably setting themselves up for disappointment by expecting imperfections in the execution to invalidate the fact of Russian mobilization.
Good training, gear, leadership, and morale are characteristics that God of War looks upon kindly. But the quality Mars appreciates the most is availability.
It’s useful not to lose the sight of forest for the trees:
And some glorious Russian anarchism:
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While I disagree with some points in the article in the assessment of history, overall it gives a just overview of the process of mobilization in Russia in 2022. Call for mobilization was certainly a shocker for the Russian society. Not counting secretive and relatively small mobilization of 1979 before the start of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, this is something that country didn't experience since the time of big war in 1941 - 1945. Important to make a note that back in the 1940s the case for mobilization was pretty clear in the minds of the most of the Soviet citizenry - country was invaded by Nazi Germany, but in reality by the European Union version of the time - Romanian, Hungarian, Italian, Finnish troops were participating in invasion at a large scale, but smaller units under SS command were provided practically by all countries under German control. Today the case for mobilization in the eyes of the Russian population is much less clear. Many there see the ongoing war as aggression by Russia or at least as something that is perhaps just, considering 8 years of Ukrainian attacks on Donbass, but something that is outside of their immediate interests. There is so much injustice in the world - why should they risk their lives trying to fix this one?
However, it starts to dawn on many that this is not really a war between Russia and Ukraine, this is a proxy war of collective West against Russia that decided that it can't allow Russia to exist in the current form and not because of Russia's bad behavior since 1991, Russia actually behaved in a rather subdued way giving away most of what USSR has achieved, but because of its potential. Putin is overall a very favorable for the West leader as he always tries to strike a deal even at the expense of giving in to the opponent, but what if a real patriot will replace him and have under control a country with immense natural resources? Better to divide them now into smaller, manageable pieces that are easy to control and to build overtime hatred among the newly created "nations", it worked after all fabulously with Ukraine!
- Russian mobilization won't be any worse than similar exercise in Ukraine since Russia is still a richer country that has more rigid vertical governance and control structures than independent Ukraine ever had. Yes, there will be screw-ups, acts of aggression, acts of patriotism, but overall machine is going to work, albeit in a typical for Eastern Slavs somewhat chaotic way.
- Considering the fact that as a world we are heading into a period of great instability, this war and mobilization probably play a favorable role for Russia, but also for Ukraine. West at large was not exposed to these conditions yet and breaking a prosperous, peaceful society into a survival mode won't be easy
- Mobilizing people is not enough. In order to have an upper hand in this conflict economy needs to be mobilized as well as ideology. If Russia will continue on the path of business as usual, oligarchs take natural resources out of the country and stash the profits in the offshore accounts (capital outflow from Russia is projected to hit record $250 billion this year) - this is going to lead to a great social instability creating conditions that Russian Empire experienced back in 1916 - 1917.
So, Russia and Ukraine (and Europe) are heading for some interesting times. I think by the end of the coming winter it is going to become clear which way the coin is going to fall.
Well the newly mobilised are reservists in theory, so they are supposed to have already received military training and need only a quick brushing up.
However, where I differ is in that firepower is important in determining the outcome of a battle: sticking with WW2 examples, Operation Uranus was a smashing success because of surprise, numbers, and also because the Romanians were woefully outmatched in terms of anti-tank and anti-air capabilities.
These new forces will need their own anti-tank and anti-drone devices, and artillery support, to resist until the AFU runs out of the current aid package.