As discussions continue about Ukrainian drone successes, munitions shortages and counteroffensive operations, personnel shortages have recently taken a back seat. However, U.S. officials recently stated the total number of Ukrainian and Russian troops killed or wounded since the war began is nearing 500,000.
Russia’s military casualties are approaching 300,000, with 120,000 deaths and 180,000 wounded. The Ukrainian figures are close to 70,000 killed and 110,000 wounded. Russia has a population of 143 million, more than three times that of Ukraine. However, Russia has had challenges recruiting for the war effort since the invasion.
Last year, Russia announced their plan to increase its professional and conscripted combat personnel by 30% to 1.5 million to offset the previous undisclosed losses in Ukraine. Russian army recruitment advertisements are plastered on walls everywhere and enlistment commercials are constantly flashing across television sets. Russia has tried to appeal to a sense of patriotism as conscription numbers dwindle. Impossible to avoid, a recruitment flyer handed out in Moscow last month stated, “Our job is to defend the motherland.” Patriotism has not yet saved the day.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is finding it more difficult to mobilize the people as more troops become necessary. Therefore, the military is trying to increase their numbers using other methods, such as promising military salaries well above the national average. Russia has pledged a monthly paycheck of 204,000 rubles ($2,526) for soldiers. Also advertised is additional bonus pay for destroying enemy weapons. In neighboring countries, advertisement states that soldiers will stand shoulder to shoulder in the military, with Mother Russia offering a $5,200 sign-on bonus to recruits from countries like Kazakhstan.
To increasing the total pool of eligible young men eligible for a year of compulsory military service, Russia just approved raising the maximum age at which men can be conscripted from 27 years of age to 30. With the changes taking effect in January 2024, compulsory military service remains problematic in Russia. Numerous young men go to great lengths to avoid conscription during twice-yearly call-ups. To date, with the growing attrition rates and apathy, efforts to obtain quality recruits continue to fall short.
Analysts believe a socially apathetic society has benefited Putin, enabling him to avoid answering to the people, while gaining the ability to manipulate the oligarchs and politically elite as needed. With no end to the Ukraine War in sight, public indifference is growing. If the elites turn against him, Putin can no longer count on the people for support.
Russia: Are you a Man?
What does a government do if recruiting and public support are failing? With concerns about Russia’s future and with very traditional ideas of masculinity, the Russian Defense Ministry is running flashy video ads focusing on two components – machismo and money. The add describes military service as meaningful and manly, while comparing soldiers to a depicted typical Russian man’s humdrum life. The add then illustrates civilians transforming into modern warriors ending with the constant reminder of “Monthly payments starting at 204,000 rubles.”
Other adds are frequently appealing to masculinity, using audio tracks from soldiers’ wives and other women, reminding the viewer of benefits and above-average pay for military conscription, stressing wholesome family values and manly pride.
Ukrainian Recruiting Issues
Ukraine is not without its own recruiting problems. After the full-scale invasion, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians joined the war effort to resist the unprovoked Russian aggression. Despite uncertain future and immense risks, the phrase “volunteered to fight” was commonplace on the street and on TV. Eighteen months later, Kyiv’s Independence Square “field of flags” commemorating fallen soldiers grows larger.
Ukrainian public outcry over enlistment and the mistreatment of soldiers is becoming more common place. After a series of scandals, President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed senior military recruiters nationwide, promising to end problems faced by soldiers who will endure potentially years of fighting as the war drags on. Unfortunately, Ukrainian reporters now state the term “draft dodger” is in common use.
The number of people willing and able to fight in the Ukraine are limited. Serving alongside men, 60,000 women are currently serving in the Ukrainian military. With no end in sight, the numbers game is beginning to stress Ukrainian society and the government in Kyiv.