Russian military announces plan to expand, create new units

Dec 20, 2022, 3:05 PM | Updated: Dec 21, 2022, 1:49 pm
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via videoconference in Moscow, R...

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via videoconference in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. (Pavel Byrkin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

(Pavel Byrkin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russia on Wednesday announced an ambitious plan to beef up its military from 1 million to 1.5 million and create multiple new units, an attempt to bolster the forces that have lost momentum and many soldiers in the war in Ukraine.

Russia’s military chief cited NATO’s plans to incorporate Finland and Sweden as a factor in the buildup. Here is a glance at Moscow’s military plans.

A PUSH FOR A BIGGER FORCE

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared Wednesday that the country needs a force of 1.5 million “to guarantee the fulfillment of tasks to ensure Russia’s security.” He did not say when the military will reach that size.

The Russian military currently has about 1 million soldiers, compared with China’s force of 2 million and the U.S. force of about 1.4 million. India also has more than 1.4 million soldiers.

The Kremlin previously considered the size of its military as sufficient, but the calculus changed after hopes for a quick victory over its neighbor were shattered by fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Amid the war, Russia and Ukraine both have kept a tight lid of secrecy on their military casualties. The Russian military last reported its combat losses in September, when it said 5,937 troops were killed, but the West had much higher estimates. Earlier this week, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said 100,000 Russian troops were dead, wounded or had deserted since the invasion began.

In August, Putin ordered an increase in the size of the Russian military to 1.15 million starting on Jan. 1. And in September, he ordered the mobilization of 300,000 reservists to beef up his forces in Ukraine. That number is counted as part of the military’s current strength.

While Putin said there was no need to round up more, his mobilization decree is open-ended, allowing the military to call up additional reservists when needed. Putin’s decree also banned volunteer soldiers from ending their contracts.

The mobilization came on top of the regular draft, which calls up 120,000 to 140,000 men twice a year for a one-year tour of compulsory service.

EMPHASIS ON VOLUNTEERS

The Defense Ministry has claimed that it relies exclusively on volunteers in Ukraine and doesn’t engage draftees in the fighting. The Russian military had about 400,000 contract soldiers, including about 150,000 in the ground forces, before it rolled into Ukraine.

Shoigu said the expanded Russian military will include 695,000 volunteer contract soldiers, 521,000 of whom should be in the ranks by the end of 2023.

All Russian men ages 18 to 27 are obliged to serve in the military for one year, but many use college deferments and health exemptions to avoid the draft. Shoigu said the draft age range will be changed to 21 to 30, and recruits will be offered a choice between serving for one year as draftees or signing a contract with the military as volunteers.

Human rights activists have reported multiple cases in which draftees were forced to sign contracts to serve as volunteers, and Shoigu’s statement appears to signal that the practice could be expanded.

While some young conscripts have been coerced into signing up as volunteers, many Russian men, particularly those who live in the economically struggling parts of the country, sign up for duty to get a decent salary. In addition to the military wage, authorities also promised them extra payments for taking part in combat and bonuses.

Putin promised that those who are mobilized will get a monthly wage of at least 195,000 rubles (about $2,800), about five times higher than Russia’s average salary. Some regional authorities promised to top that with their own bonuses.

Families of soldiers killed in action in Ukraine are entitled to various state-mandated compensations that in total could surpass 12 million rubles (over $170,000).

Despite the payments and other perks, Putin’s mobilization order prompted hundreds of thousands to flee abroad to avoid the call-up, and the military has struggled to procure enough supplies for those who were rounded up.

But authorities’ concerns that the mobilization could fuel broad discontent haven’t materialized, and sporadic protests across Russia have failed to gain momentum. Many military experts say that Russia could call up bigger numbers, and some predicted that a new wave of mobilization could begin early next year.

RESHAPING MILITARY STRUCTURE

Shoigu outlined plans to form new military units and groups of forces in western Russia, including an army corps to be deployed to the northwestern region of Karelia near Finland.

The plans marked a return to the Soviet-era military structure, which Russia abandoned during recent military reforms that saw the creation of smaller, more mobile units.

Some Russian military experts have argued that such smaller units intended for use in local conflicts were undermanned and underequipped for massive fighting like the action in Ukraine.

Shoigu declared that the existing infantry, airborne and marine brigades will be reshaped into divisions, the bigger units that Russia had in the past and that the U.S. and some NATO allies still have. He also announced that several new divisions will be formed.

As part of a planned reform, some air force units will be made subordinate to groups of land forces in an apparent bid to increase coordination between them that many observers said proved insufficient during the fighting in Ukraine.

FILLING THE GAPS

In a speech given Wednesday before top military brass, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the need to use the lessons learned during the fighting to modernize the armed forces.

He specifically underlined the importance of enhancing communications and improving artillery tactics. Some Russian military bloggers lamented that coordination between units has often been poor, and it has taken commanders too long to designate and clear targets for artillery and rocket strikes.

Putin also emphasized the need to widen the use of drones, noting that they have played a big role in the conflict.

The Russian president promised that the military industries will increase weapons production, saying they can do so without stretching the country’s resources and damaging the economy.

NUCLEAR FORCES PRIORITIZED

Putin also vowed Wednesday to put special emphasis on modernizing Russia’s nuclear forces, which he described as “the main guarantee of our sovereignty and territorial integrity, strategic parity and the global balance of forces.”

He said that the new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile will enter service shortly. The Sarmat is intended to replace aging Soviet-built ballistic missiles and form the core of Russia’s nuclear forces, and Putin has hailed its capability to dodge any missile defenses.

Putin added that Russia will deploy more hypersonic weapons, noting that the first warship equipped with state-of-the-art Zircon hypersonic missiles will be commissioned by the navy next month.

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Russian military announces plan to expand, create new units