Last Friday, the operations director of the Russian General Staff, Sergei Rudskoy, gave an otherworldly “update” on the status of the “special military operation” or “limited incursion” or anything but a war going on in Ukraine. In that update, he claimed that Russia had never tried to capture Kiev (pronounced “Keef” if you work for NPR or are named Christiane Amanpour). The Russian Army was not, contrary to popular belief, getting drubbed outside Kiev; it was just holding the Ukrainians in place as the master plan unfolded in Donbas (see Russia’s General Staff Claims Invasion Objectives ‘Mainly Accomplished’ and Phase II of Ukraine Invasion Is Starting).
There were some obvious contradictions to this story. One of the most striking contradictions is Russia’s commitment to the invading force with 75%, according to Western intelligence.
This is quite remarkable. Russia now has 70-75% commitment to war. This includes its BTGs. They have not succeeded in achieving their original strategy. That’s why the maximalist strategy is now finally over, without the construction of a whole new army. https://t.co/lqg4wpdM1a
— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) March 29, 2022
Russian troops are fighting with Ukrainian troops north, so I doubt the brigade leaders or troops at the lower echelons possess the skills or training to pull off a withdrawal from close contact. In order to carry out the strategy described by general staff, troops in conflict in north Ukraine must be pulled back from the line. They will need to break contact with Ukrainian forces and then move back to Russia and reconstitute their units before being pushed to action on the Donbas front. It would prove difficult for any army to accomplish this feat, especially given the pathetic state of the Russian Army.
To keep the conflict in Ukraine alive, Russia has had to go to great lengths. To serve Ukraine, Occupation troops were pulled from Transnistria and Georgia. This has led to unhappy results in Armenia as Russia is discovering There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
Russian peacekeepers deployed more troops in order to stop Azerbaijan from moving forward with Karabakh. https://t.co/BEBzO7I4yi
— Neil Hauer (@NeilPHauer) March 29, 2022
Russia’s fixation on Ukraine and the lackluster performance of the Russian Army could very well set off a new series of wars as Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan relitigate the outcomes of the last wars they fought involving Russia.
It is likely that Moldova and Georgia will realize at some point that some of the frozen conflicts may be unfrozen if Russia continues its self-destructive path. https://t.co/xvMLTySb5e
— Lawrence Freedman (@LawDavF) March 16, 2022
Even worse is that this takes place under the cover of April 1. April 1 is the date when the biannual batch of draftees reports to their local draft board equivalent. It is also when the previous year’s draftees start being released from active duty.
Here’s a hint: The Russians may have the right answer.
According to Intel. Dept. Dept. #UkraineMoD will be in effect from April 1st #RussiaTo send them into war, a draft of 100K combat experienced reservists is available. #Ukraine. This draft is simultaneous with spring conscription of 18-year-old Russian males.
— Victor Kovalenko (@MrKovalenko) March 28, 2022
Here is an explanation on how the Russian draft system operates.
Russian Armed Forces recruit men semi-annually. The fall draft lasts from October 1 to December 31, while the spring draft runs from April 1 through July 15.The Kremlin published the draft of the spring draft in 2022 early February 18, 2022.Although the draft is applicable to all men 18-27 years old, some conscripts are as young as 16 year old.Russian conscripts are typically assigned a one-year term.There are approximately 1.2million Russian-aged men who have been conscripted each year. But only half will be required to appear at the local military commissariat. According to the Russian General Staff, 127,000 men were conscripted for the Fall 2021 draft while 134,000 in Spring 2021. This is out of 672 000 summoned men.Conscripts are relatively stable year after year. 2020 saw 263,000 and 2019, 2019.Around 261,000 Russian Conscripts currently serve across Russian units. Fall 2021 conscripts have just entered their third month.
 https://www dot kp.ru/putevoditel/obrazovanie/vesennij-prizyv/; https://www dot interfax.ru/russia/794657
 http://publication dot pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202202180067; https://nv. Dot ua/world/geopolitics/rossiya-prodolzhaet-styagivat-voyska-k-granice-s-ukrainoy-analitik-cit-na-radio-nv-50205189.html; https://vk dot tatarstan.ru/index.htm/news/2000133.htm
 https://www dot kp.ru/putevoditel/obrazovanie/vesennij-prizyv/; http://www. Dot consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_18260/673dfb400c48363d58052a3dd0e762af36f38979/
 http://www dot consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_18260/
 https://www dot interfax.ru/russia/794657; https://ria dot ru/20210930/trebovaniya-1752464085.html
 https://iz dot ru/1036012/2020-07-16/v-rossii-zavershilsia-vesennii-prizyv; https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/202012311053-F2LZR.html; https://iz dot ru/960313/video/osennii-prizyv-v-armiiu-zavershaetsia-v-rossii
Russia receives approximately a quarter of a million conscripts annually in two tranches. One is from April 1-July 15 and the other from October 1-December 31. The drafted are usually drafted for 12 months. According to my knowledge, draftees are required to complete 12-weeks worth of training. This includes four weeks of basic soldier skills as well as eight weeks of unit training at increasingly higher levels culminating in company-level exercises. An example of this is the 22-weeks that an infantryman in the US Army goes through before he joins a unit.
Draftees are allowed to serve nine more months after joining a unit. A personnel churn is another issue. Each year, a unit must have 100% turnover in its conscript force. It is not difficult to see if you have been stationed overseas. Russian Army units can be assigned to harvest crops. So even the nine-months a soldier spends in one unit, it is possible for them to not devote their time to military activities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin could extend active-duty terms for draftees. That would require him to abandon the “special military operation” bullsh** and admit that he’s kicked over a hornet’s nest in Ukraine. I can’t even speculate on how that plays out or where Russian public opinion stands on the war or Putin’s pain tolerance to bucking public opinion. We will get a clear indication of this on April 1. If you read my classic essay A Dozen Russian Troops Refuse to Go to Ukraine and Show Us That Russia’s Government Looks a Lot Like Ours, it will come as no shock to you that the Russian draft is a system that can be “hacked.” About 40% of Russian conscripts come from single-parent homes or orphanages and will show up. It remains to be determined what the remaining 60% do. We do have a hint from Russia’s past.
Induction of military personnel was plagued with corruption by late 1980s. This problem had been made worse by the War in Afghanistan. The campaign to combat corruption became a major focus. Draft evasion was a problem despite the 1985 reduction in draft deferments. According to reports, a senior Estonian official was arrested for taking bribes from soldiers seeking to avoid serving in Afghanistan in July 1987. Pravda (Young Communist League), and Komsomol have both reported instances of parents bribing their children to avoid service in Afghanistan since mid-i986. Popular resentment was fed by elite groups who were more able to bribe children into military service. Draft evasion is a result of popular disillusionment.
Over 2,000,000 eighteen year-olds report to the voenkomat commissions each year. They report in either the spring or the fall according to whether they were born in the first half or second year. Based on quotas assigned by the General Staff’s Main Organization and Mobilization Directorate, the voenkomat either assigned recruits to one of the armed services or granted deferments.
The assignment was based on conscripts’ physical characteristics, educational background, and political history. High-quality conscripts were chosen for the services that require technical skills or reliability. Airborne Troops only accepts recruits who have been trained by DOSAAF in parachuting. Ground Forces and Rear Services, however, have required less skilled inductees. However, nearly 90 percent have received secondary education.
One-quarter of all eighteen-year old men were granted deferments by the Voenkomaty for reasons of health and family hardship. For those enrolled at higher education institutions, 18-year-olds could be exempt from military service. However, they were still required to take part in the institution’s reserve officer program. Participants in these training programs were eligible for up to one year of active service after they graduate.
Draft avoidance and outright fraud were common during the USSR era. Some were granted deferments in order to attend college while others were physically unable to do so (does that sound familiar?); those who were less fortunate ignored the law, preferring to be arrested to serve with the Red Army.
Second, 100K reserve soldiers are needed. They will supposedly have combat experience. This reserve is best if it’s already serving in combat. Russia needed to call up a restricted reserve to help with the Ukraine invasion.
It was almost certain that the Russian reserve and cadre units, which were located around Ukraine prior to the invasion, required significant reserves call-ups. The Russian military will likely need a reserve call-up to replace losses and fill in additional units as the Ukrainian ground offensive stalls. As of March 5, reports indicate that 3000 replacement troops are currently being deployed across the Russian border to Kharkiv in an effort to replace Russian combat casualties.
The “combat experience” claim is total crap. Other than in the 2014 bullying of Ukraine, the Russian Army has not been at war since August 2008 when it was stationed in Georgia 12 days. A draftee in that war was about 33 years of age. Reservists who served during the First (December 1994-August 1996) and Second (1999-May 2000) Chechen Wars will be most commonly 40-46 years of age. And they’ve been out of the game for 14-20 years. Another important thing to remember is that the Russian reserve forces are not the “one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer” troops like in our own Army Reserve and National Guard.
While Russia’s reserve contains more than 2 million conscripts or contract servicemen, few soldiers are currently trained and ready for battle. Historically, only 10 percent of reservists receive refresher training after completing their initial term of service. Russia lacks the administrative and financial capacity to train reservists on an ongoing basis. A 2019 RAND analysis found that Russia had only 4,000-5,000 soldiers in active reserve, which would mean they were able to provide regular training for their troops. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has repeatedly stated that the Russian Armed Forces hoped to have 80,000-100,000 active reserve members.
 https://www dot cnn.com/2022/02/25/europe/russia-ukraine-military-comparison-intl/index.html; https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/how-do-militaries-russia-and-ukraine-stack; https://gogov dot ru/articles/population-ru/military; https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR3099.html
 https://www.csis.org/blogs/post-soviet-post/best-or-worst-both-worlds; https://www.dia.mil/Portals/110/Images/News/Military_Powers_Publications…
The Russian Army inviting a great many reservists to join its ranks isn’t going to make any difference in combat effectiveness other than filling the gaps.
The second part of the Russian General Staff’s “Hail, Mary” approach is part real and part psyops, but mostly psyops.
NEW: Russia’s Wagner Group has deployed to eastern Ukraine and is expected to send over 1,000 mercenaries for combat operations: British Defense Intelligence
Russia’s heavy losses in Ukraine have “highly likely” forced Kremlin to deploy Wagner to Ukraine from Africa & Syria
— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch) March 28, 2022
NOTE: as a matter of technical accuracy, there is no such business entity as the “Wagner Group.” The details of its organization can be found in this Foreign Policy article. I’m using the term to refer to a network of private military companies that provide troops to the Russian government as a proxy force.
When we last encountered the Wagner Group, they were torturing prisoners and abusing women and children when they weren’t getting their asses shredded by American artillery and air power (see Three Hundred Dead and Wounded Russians Are a Reminder of US Airpower in Syria).
WARNING! GRAPHIC CONTENT.
Social media users shared a video showing that 2 had been uploaded. #Wagner mercenaries torturing, beheading & lynching-on-fire a #SyriaArmy defector 2017 ‘just for Fun’
The Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor that contracts with the Syrian Government, is called “Wagner Group”. pic.twitter.com/R1lkGJkXPy
— Syrian Portal (@syrianportal) November 24, 2019
This is psyops, because 1000 men are involved in a conflict the same size as that in Ukraine. These allegedly supermen, who have combat experience, are being brought in by the Russians to intimidate Ukrainians. Three problems arise when Wagner Group mercenaries are brought from Syria to Ukraine.
First, as we’ve seen in Azerbaijan (and will see in Georgia and Moldova), moving troops from one theater to another creates a vacuum soon filled by someone. I’ve seen no evidence that the Wagner Group has been particularly effective in Syria, but they are the face of the Russian government there. It is a sign of weakness and lack of commitment by Russia to the Syrian mission if they’re pulled out. That will not happen.
Second, their experience gained in Syria by the Wagner Group will not be applicable to Ukraine’s tactical or geographical environment. Ukrainian soldiers are not Syrian villagers.
According to one Russian mercenary who served in the Wagner Group, the Russian Army lies about having gained combat experience in Syria.
His statement states that only the Russian Air Force had knowledge of Syria which is applicable to Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/VJwvPC24Hu
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) March 27, 2022
Dritte, while Russia may not care that much about the finer points of international law; however, the Wagner Group uses mercenaries to fight in combat positions, which places them outside the scope of the Geneva Conventions. The following is the International Convention against the Training, Use, Financing, and Training of MercenariesCaptured members of the Wagner Group aren’t lawful combatants, and can be charged as criminal defendants. While the Russian Army may use them for security purposes, to escort convoys and other tasks related to combat support, their use in combat operations are prohibited. While the Russian government might not be concerned about it, I suspect that the mercenaries will. There is only way to get them involuntarily into the Russian Army. Then deal with all the consequences. I also suspect they won’t really want to be in the convoy escort business.
#UkraineUkrainian Special forces carried out large scale chain IED attacks against an alleged Russian supply convoy. Although 5 IEDs have been detonated, and it is highly likely that there will be damage, its extent remains unknown. pic.twitter.com/4Kmv6xLIbJ
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) March 28, 2022
Russia faces major problems in prosecuting Ukraine’s illegal attack. The Russian Army does not appear to have enough combat power to complete the mission that was reduced by the General Staff last week. We are already seeing the effects of instability in these areas. The draftees from the new group will not be ready to deploy to Ukraine until July. This is despite being demobilized. The 100,000-man call-up of reservists, in my opinion, creates more of a political problem for how Putin can spin the war in Ukraine than it solves the operational problem of too-much-mission-too-few-troops. Because the men who are being called up have not been in the military for a while, their families and friends will be disappointed. Their families will be more unhappy when they get a call on their loved one’s cell phone from some Ukrainian soldier letting them know their loved one is dead.