Doing a rare commentary on a contemporary military situation, since it happens to overlap with what I’ve read about. Fair warning-I’m not an expert, I’m a civilian enthusiast who has read too much and seen too many order of battle charts. Take this what you will.
So, moving with the speed and grace of the Austin Powers steamroller victim, Russia has finally declared a “partial” mobilization after seven months of brutal attrition, including training units. At first limited to reservists and people with military experience in out of the way provinces (let’s be realistic), it’s nonetheless very broad. The initial goal is 300,000 troops, which sounds like a lot and is still politically dicey. Why they did this is obvious-the Ukrainian counteroffensives and the failure of their improvised semi-mobilization left them with little choice.
People have talked ad nausem about the equally obvious issues with training and equipping that many (or more) troops, as well as morale. So I’ll mention two topics. The first is what they can legitimately accomplish. This is to serve as a stationary dug-in meatshield as the first line of defense. Every army needs an infantry meatshield from somewhere. In the early summer Ukraine was doing this, desperately throwing poorly equipped and trained militia to the east. Of course, you can have that or you can have the 1991 Iraqi infantry formations, but there is a legitimate use for low-quality troops, at least on paper.
What they cannot do effectively is launch offensives. You can probably understand why this is a big deal. And that’s especially if they have worse and their opponents better equipment.
Now for the rivet-counting nerd part and what you need to equip 300,000 people (this is NOT saying the real ones would be equipped or organized this way, just showing how demanding it is equipment-wise). Using a mostly foot OPFOR infantry division as the baseline (ie, largely only suitable for defensive operations), and assuming a handwaved 20,000 strong divisional slice of support troops beyond the 10,000 strong division itself, you get get 15 division-equivalents, which is…
- 465 tanks
- 540 artillery pieces
- 270 multiple rocket launchers
- 540 anti-aircraft guns.
Even in Russia this does not grow on trees, especially after the stockpile has already been plundered massively.
2 thoughts on “What Does Mobilization Mean?”
I think you got it right in one word: meatshield. Defensive troops deployed in static positions in the Donbass republics together with the local militias, and backed up by some artillery, would make any concerted effort by the Ukrainians to take them back quite expensive and difficult. Meanwhile, the better troops, with tanks, carriers and air cover, are used as reaction forces or maybe they try again to get that land bridge to the Crimea.
Given all the videos floating around of young Russian men breaking their own limbs to avoid conscription and white-haired grandfathers wearing officer insignia lined up in ranks in occupied Crimea, and the constant reports that they’re just being handed rifles and being put on buses for the front without training of any kind, I do not anticipate that most of them are going to perform any better than Saddam Hussein’s army did in 1991. I mean, I could be mistaken. But even a meat-shield force must, on some level, be willing to fight and not just throw down their rifles and flee before the first shot is fired. What I am seeing makes me anticipate a general rout, though not on the level that we saw in 1991, because the Ukrainians do not have the level of mobility and complete uncontested air supremacy that US forces enjoyed in Desert Storm, nor sufficient combat power at all points up and down the front to keep up the necessary level of pressure in terrain much more restrictive than open desert and salt flats.
It may be that there will be a few here among the new batch of Russian conscripts and there who both know what they are about and are willing to die so that Putin can recreate the Soviet Empire, and Poisson distribution, if nothing else, suggests that here and there small groups of such men will coalesce at the front in sufficient numbers to be speed bumps for the advancing Ukrainians, here and there, but I anticipate that the Ukrainians will usually be in a position to pass around them and surround them and starve them out rather than having to root them out house to house and room to room with “blowtorch & corkscrew” tactics. I do not think it is likely that any such small groups will be able to make any kind of difference, militarily speaking.
All this time we were told that we should regard Vladimir Putin as a rational actor–a thug and a war criminal, but a shrewd individual who understood risk and reward, whose behavior could be modeled and predicted, who could be deterred. His behavior this year has been utterly deranged, and I wonder if he has a brain tumor. Perhaps if leaders in the West had done something other than wring their hands briefly for the news cameras then change the subject as quickly as possible the last four or five times he emptied Russia’s prisons into neighboring countries, gave the convicts guns, and had them engage in a bit of the ol’ ethnic cleansing in preparation for a naked land grab by the “little green men,” maybe he and his movement wouldn’t have been so emboldened and encouraged. Maybe a lot of people who’ve died violent deaths so far this year would still be alive. But I suppose it’s difficult to argue counterfactuals.
The question we now have is, what can the West do? Can we make this painful enough and costly enough that Putin, or some other Duginist maniac, lack the means to try again in a year or two? Obviously the West can’t just partition, dismember, and occupy Russia like we did to Germany in 1945. We lack the means and the will, and there is the question of the old Soviet nuclear arsenal, perhaps as much as 5% of which may still be in semi-working order after thirty years of rusting quietly away in the silos.
I don’t know what can be done. I anticipate that in the near term–well, in less than a year of fighting, the Russians seem to have lost a “front’s” worth of men and equipment, an army group’s worth. If memory serves the Soviet military had sixteen or so “fronts,” each one essentially a self-contained army group theoretically constituting one tank army and two combined arms armies, totaling five armored and nine mechanized infantry divisions plus support units, give or take. At least that was the Russian TO&E circa 1985. I don’t know nearly so much about their TO&E in 2022, but I am pretty sure they don’t have sixteen army groups any more. Their losses so far in Ukraine, not just of equipment and materiel, but of the men who’d actually had prewar training, whom a rational leader would have pulled out of the line to serve as training cadres for the conscripts being press-ganged instead of burning up like so much cordwood, have surely utterly crippled them. The Soviet Union had a population of about three hundred and fifty million and took 40% off the top of the GDP of every Warsaw Pact nation in order to pay for things like sixty thousand nuclear warheads and seventy-five thousand T54s, T55s, and T62s. Russia today only has about 40% of the old USSR’s population and is no longer in a position to hold Poles and East Germans at bayonet point and strip-mine their nations’ economies to feed the Russian war machine. Russia does not command the resources it did then, even if most of those tanks are still there, or rather rusting hulks that used to be tanks, slowly rusting away, parked in neat rows at depots in Siberia and Dagestan and Tashkent, random bits and gubbins pulled off by scrap metal thieves. Does no one in Russia know this? Have they not noticed yet that it’s not 1955 any more?
Is Putin like Hitler in the bunker in the last hours, frantically screaming out orders to units that no longer exist, making plans based on capabilities he doesn’t know he doesn’t have? I don’t know what to think of any of this.