Putin ‘Really Scrambling’ to Find More Troops for War: Ex-NATO Commander

1/14/23

Russian President Vladimir Putin poses as he delivers a New Year’s address to the nation on December 31, 2022. Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “scrambling” to find more troops to fight in Ukraine despite Moscow claiming that its forces captured the city of Soledar.PHOTO BY MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “scrambling” to find more troops to fight in Ukraine despite Moscow recently claiming that its forces captured the city of Soledar.

During an interview with MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell, Stavridis weighed in on reports that Russia is resorting to prisoners, the Wagner Group, reservists, and others to fight in Ukraine.

“Putin is really scrambling…to gain the manpower, he’s going to the prisons, he’s going to the homeless shelters, [and] he’s taking people in their 50s and 60s,” he said. “I’m in my early 60s, I don’t think the U.S. Army is searching for me to send me into combat. But, Putin will take anything. It’s a sign of how difficult this fight has become for him.”

This week, Russia appeared to have hinted that another round of mobilization might take place to meet war demands in Ukraine. State Duma Deputy Viktor Sobolev announced on Friday that Russian reservists who are 30 and older and have no military experience will be trained after adopting a law that would change the call-up age for conscripts, Russian news agency URA.RU reported.

However, Andrei Kartapalov, head of the Duma’s Defense Committee, on Friday denied that Russian reservists will be required to undergo military training, The Moscow Times reported, citing the Telegram channel Baza.

Putin had already announced last September the “partial mobilization” of some 300,000 conscripts, but later said in October that mobilization efforts were over. Last month, the Russian leader denied a new wave of mobilization, saying he found it unnecessary to do so.

However, Ukraine claims that Russia is still mobilizing troops, with the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces saying this past November that Moscow was mobilizing conscripts in the occupied city of Simferopol.

Simon Miles, assistant professor of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University, told Newsweek on Friday that Russia has to continue mobilization efforts to meet manpower demands.

“I think Russia has to continue mobilization. They need more manpower in the fight, and they started at a massive deficit, so they are still—almost a year later— playing catch-up. The first big call-up seems to have stabilized their lines, if they want to make forward progress and take or retake territory from the Ukrainians, they will need more personnel,” he said.

Miles added: “I don’t think this is so much a defensive as an offensive gambit. Ground forces are the key to taking and holding terrain. Now, older reservists with a few weeks of refresher training are far from the ideal force to employ for this [war], but I think we can see on the ground in Ukraine that even though they aren’t best, they are good enough.”

During Stavridis’ interview on Friday, Mitchell also asked him about his thoughts on Russia’s “state of play” at the moment given the “competing claims” made by Ukraine and Russia about the advances made in Soledar.

The former NATO commander predicted that Soledar would fall to the Russians, and that it wouldn’t “surprise” him if that happened.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see Soledar fall….this is a pretty small beer [town] in an 800 mile…combat front. So…this one town may fall to the Russians,” he said, adding that achieving gains in Soledar “will give them [Russians] a bit of a morale boost, but tactically it’s not going to be terribly significant.”

“The real prize is close by as a town called Bakhmut, much bigger, more strategically important. I think you’ll see the Ukrainian results stiffen and they’ll hold on to that,” he explained.

Stavridis on Thursday also floated the idea that there might be an internal division among Russian military leaders after the Russian Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday on Telegram that General Valery Gerasimov will lead forces in the ongoing war instead of Sergei Surovikin. The move came only three months after Surovikin was assigned the role.

“There’s an internal kind of division going on between the conventional military represented by [Russian army General Valery] Gerasimov…,[Sergei] Shoigu, the [Russian] defense minister…and on the other side, a man named [Yevgeny] Prigozhin, who is a leader of the Wagner Group, this mercenary group that is admittedly having some success on the battlefield,” Stavridis told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.

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