Russia has a virtually unlimited supply of some of the most important supplies for its war against Ukraine: fuel and ammunition (though recent reports that Russia needs help from North Korean to get ammunition means it might be running short on some important kinds). Yet the invading force lacks an abundant supply of men. Vladimir Putin is looking to change that.
In late August Putin issued a decree to raise the official number of Russian military personnel to 1.15 million by January 2023, an increase of 137,000 from its current level. This is is not a full mobilization, but it shows Putin is not giving up on the war. Or, at the very least, he wants to send a signal that he is not giving up.
Drawing from a seemingly unlimited supply of military recruits from Russia’s vast peasantry helped make the country a great power in earlier centuries. Those days are over. The Russian army already was facing the effects of a national fertility rate that had collapsed to 1.5 births per woman by 2020. Besides that, Putin has pledged that only volunteers will be used in front-line units. So far he has refused to publicly call for an expanded draft or force a large number of reservists to serve in Ukraine.
The lion’s share of Russia’s combat forces deployed to Ukraine expecting a swift victory in February. Some analysts predicted well-trained and handsomely equipped Russian troops would destroy the Ukrainian state and occupy major cities early on, with under-resourced but highly motivated Ukrainian partisans grinding down the occupation forces. But the Ukrainian state survived, the Ukrainian military remains intact and is still killing Russian soldiers at a good clip.