Moscow Scrambling to Fill Ranks of Its Forces in Syria and Elsewhere
December 15 – Russia’s indefensible actions against the civilian population of
Aleppo, actions that rise to the level of crimes against humanity, are
attracting so much attention that many have ignored another development that
may ultimately have an even greater impact on Vladimir Putin’s behavior.
is this: The Kremlin is having trouble filling the ranks of its forces on the ground
in Syria and has been forced to take a number of steps that both reflect its
desperation and may lay the groundwork for future aggression if they are
successful or make it far more difficult if they are not.
country with a military as large and powerful as Putin routinely assures his
own people and the world, the dispatch of a few thousand ground troops to
another country whose government welcomes them should not be problem. But three
new developments show that it has become one.
there have been reports about Moscow sending 500 Chechen soldiers from units
controlled up to now by Ramzan Kadyrov personally to Syria to help the Asad
dictatorship, reports that have attracted particular attention because at least
12 of their number have refused to go (republic.ru/posts/77378
senior officers trust the Chechens; and consequently, it is almost certain that
they had these people imposed on them by the Kremlin both because of a desire
of the central political leadership to ensure that any deaths on the ground
could be more easily hidden and because there was no one else readily
That some of the
Chechen soldiers are resisting, of course, will only reinforce the attitudes of
the Russian office corps and of many Russians more generally about the
reliability of the Chechens and mean that officers are likely to dig in in
opposition to the use of the Chechens and to get support from Russians for
are reports about “secret Russian mercenaries” under commanders who earlier
fought in Ukraine, a group that may be prepared to do the kind of things Putin
and Asad prefer but that do nothing to promote unit cohesion in the military or
boost its standing with the Russian population (spektr.press/gruppa-vagnera-istoriya-tajnyh-rossijskih-naemnikov-v-sirii/).
third, today, the Duma passed a measure that will allow the Russian military to
hire people for short-term contracts to fight abroad. In the past, such people
had to serve two or more years; now, they will only have to commit to six to 12
military is likely to seek to employ former soldiers who have recent training
of the kind needed, something that could save Moscow money and also allow for a
rapid build up or alternatively drawn down in forces but again something that
reflects not only budgetary stringencies but also broader personnel ones as
three developments come on top of a longstanding trend: the number of
18-year-olds in the Russian Federation, the prime draft age, is declining and
the share of ethnic Russians within them is declining as well. That makes it
hard to fill all the slots in the Russian army with the people commanders
wouldmost like to have.
that difficulty is compounded by the need the Russian economy has in at least
some sectors for additional workers and by the still negative attitudes many
Russians have to military service because of widespread reports of dedovshchina
and other harsh aspects in the life of uniformed personnel.