Putin’s Conscript Problem

Putin has embarked Russia on a bloody war of choice against a nation that many Russians consider to be their ethnic and cultural cousin. This war is maximalist: Putin is trying to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine, he says, and this surely involves the destruction of the Ukrainian government and the occupation of large parts of Ukraine. Russia sent about 200,000 troops into Ukraine, the bulk of its combat forces, but eventually these troops will get tired or sick or killed, and more troops will need to be brought up. But where is Russia going to find these troops?

A little less than a week before Putin massively expanded his war in Ukraine, he signed a decree to call up conscripts from the reserve to receive “military training.” Local Russian media outlets have published reports of men receiving summonses for military duty. The men who received these summons and their families can’t help but notice the timing: Could they be headed to fight in Ukraine? In 2014, Russia sent conscripts in to fight the Ukrainians, even while insisted it was not even at war in Ukraine.

In a well-publicized meeting with female members of Aeroflot flight crews on March 5, one of Putin’s guests asked a question about a declaration of martial law in Russia and the possibility that Russian conscripts would be sent to fight. Putin reassured his interviewer:

In this operation only professional soldiers, officers and contractors [i.e. soldiers who have signed a contract, not conscripts] take part. There are no conscripts, and we do not plan to do this and are not going to do this. To repeat once more, only men who voluntarily made for themselves a very responsible choice in their life—to defend the motherland, participate in this operation. They carry out this task with honor.

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