Desperate to reinforce its battered forces in Ukraine, the Kremlin is raising scores of volunteer battalions—and plans to rush them to the front after just 30 days of training.
A month isn’t enough to train an individual recruit in a soldier’s individual tasks—to say nothing of training the battalion as a whole to fight and survive against battle-hardened Ukrainian formations.
“This drive will likely produce ‘soldiers’ of lower quality than the normal conscripts,” the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War explained.
The Russian army deployed essentially all of its skilled soldiers for Russia’s wider war in Ukraine starting on Feb. 23: around 150,000 personnel in more than a hundred battalion tactical groups.
These first-line soldiers did a lot of the dying in the war’s early months. Analysts estimated as many as 15,000 Russians died in Ukraine by mid-May. The wounded likely numbered in the tens of thousands.
The Russian army in the subsequent two months surely has suffered thousands more killed and wounded. The army of the pro-Russian separatist “republic” in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast reported losing more than half its pre-war strength of 20,000 in the first 100 days of the wider war, so it’s not inconceivable the Russian army by now has buried or sent home more than 60,000 of its best-trained and most experienced people.
Such steep losses are impossible for the Kremlin immediately to make good. The best it can do is partially to replace its dead and wounded with partially trained recruits—and at great cost.
There were signs of desperation back in May, when the Russian army announced it would begin forming front-line units around the so-called “third battalions” in existing combat brigades. The third battalion, staffed with short-term conscripts, is a brigade’s constabulary and training base. Third battalions were never meant to fight.
The desperation deepened as the war ground on. In June the Kremlin began forming the first of as many as 85 volunteer battalions with around 34,000 troops between them. That effort intensified this month, ISW reported. The government in Moscow is paying new recruits at least $3,000 a month—a not insignificant sum in Russia.
Each battalion will have around 400 soldiers between the ages of 18 and 60. “Recruits are not required to have prior military service and will undergo only 30 days of training before deployment to Ukraine,” ISW noted.
Commanders reportedly are promising some recruits they won’t be sent to Ukraine. “We consider such promises a lie, because with the existing shortage of personnel, all volunteer battalions will fight on the front line and suffer losses,” the Conflict Intelligence Team, an independent investigative organization originating in Russia, wrote in its latest dispatch.
A month of training isn’t enough to prepare a recruit for the rigors of mechanized warfare. For comparison, a U.S. Army infantry recruit endures more than five months of training before arriving at their first battalion, where the unit-level and pre-deployment training then continues. It’d be unusual for an American infantryman to deploy for combat with less than a year of training.
The training shortfall isn’t the only problem with Russia’s latest mobilization. The volunteer battalions also are falling in on very old equipment.
Having written off nearly 5,000 armored vehicles that outside analysts can confirm, the Russian army increasingly is pulling out of storage and readying for combat 1980s-vintage—or older—T-62 tanks and MT-LB armored tractors.
The combination of undertrained replacement soldiers—and too few of them—riding in outdated vehicles bodes poorly for Russia’s war effort.
“The aging vehicles, weapons and Soviet-era tactics used by Russian forces do not lend themselves to quickly regaining or building momentum unless used in overwhelming mass–which Russia is currently unable to bring to bear,” the U.K. Defense Ministry stated.