Russia is desperately trying to fill its ranks depleted by its poor showing in its unprovoked war on Ukraine, a senior defense official said speaking on background today.
Russia is seeking to increase the size of its military by 137,000 to 1.15 million. U.S. officials have said that Russia has lost between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in its misguided war on Ukraine.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the increase be in place effective in January 2023.
"This effort is unlikely to succeed, as Russia has historically not met personnel and strength targets," the official said. "In fact, if you look at the Russian armed forces, prior to the invasion, they may have already been 150,000 personnel short of their million personnel goal."
Prior to the invasion, roughly a quarter of the Russian force were conscripts and the remainder were professional soldiers. Moscow has been trying to use largely professional soldiers as opposed to conscripts in the Ukraine conflict, the official said. Still, there have been news reports of conscripts — hastily equipped, meagerly supplied and badly trained — being placed on the front lines in Ukraine.
Russian leaders have already begun trying to expand recruitment efforts to staff at least one volunteer battalion per federal district, and to raise a new army corps, the senior defense official said. "They've done this in part by eliminating the upper age limits for new recruits and also by recruiting prisoners," she said. "Many of these new recruits have been observed as older, unfit and ill-trained."
All this suggests to Pentagon officials that "any additional personnel that Russia actually can muster by the end of the year, in fact, may not increase overall Russian combat power," the official said.
Ukrainian government officials have said they have launched an offensive in and around Kherson to retake the strategic city in the south, and a senior U.S. military official, also speaking on background, said there has been an increase in kinetic activity in and around the city. The official did not want to characterize the actions there as a counter offensive just yet. He said there would be more clarity in the next 24 to 36 hours.
The senior military official noted that Ukrainian forces have been moving into the region for some time. The ratio between Ukrainian and Russian forces "are in much better number in terms of equality or parity in the south than they were initially up along the eastern portion of the battlespace. And again, without knowing all the particulars of what the Ukrainians are doing, … they are students of military doctrine. They understand that conducting an attack takes a greater number of forces than if you were on the defense. So, I think they probably have worked to adjust their numbers."
Morale is an aspect of combat and news reports on Russian morale in the south indicate that it was already poor when the unprovoked war started. "Now imagine you're a Russian soldier … a couple of months into it, and you've been getting hit pretty hard by [Ukrainian] artillery and HIMARS," he said.
Add other capabilities, including Ukrainian air attacks which have become "more and more efficient and effective," the senior military official said. This has to have an effect on morale and Ukrainian military officials have seen that "and are working to take advantage of it," he said.