Russia’s elite units staffed with untrained recruits in sign of Putin’s desperation, experts say

Newly-mobilised Russian recruits are being deployed to the frontlines in Ukraine with little to no training as arson attacks and protests over the new conscription orders continue in a sign of how significant Russia’s military losses have been, military experts say.

Russia’s defence ministry announced on Thursday units staffed with reserves would begin to “defend liberated territories” in Ukraine.

“Citizens called up from the reserves as part of partial mobilisation and volunteers have begun combat coordination with units at training grounds in close proximity to the areas of combat missions,” the defence forces said in a statement published on Russian media.

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“After conducting combat coordination, the units, staffed by mobilised citizens and volunteers, will begin to carry out tasks to control and defend the liberated territories, as well as acting as part of reserves and reinforcement units.”

Yet, despite claims recruits would be trained, independent media and military analysts have noted that people are being deployed to the frontlines with hardly any training. Even Russia’s “premier conventional fighting forces” are being staffed with “newly-mobilised and undertrained recruits to directly reinforce severely degraded remnants of various units”, the Institute for Study of War (ISW) reported in what it says is a sign of how significant Russia’s combat losses are.

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Russian mobilisation efforts, announced on September 21, have led to chaos at Russia’s borders as thousands of Russian men try to escape conscription (Photo: Daro Sulakauri/Getty)
Russian mobilisation efforts, announced on September 21, have led to chaos at Russia’s borders as thousands of Russian men try to escape conscription (Photo: Daro Sulakauri/Getty)

The military think tank said social media footage from this week shows a Russian soldier explaining he would be told to fight in Kherson without basic training. “The 1st Guards Tank Army was considered Russia’s premier mechanised force prior to February 24, and the fact that its elements are being reinforced with poorly disciplined, untrained men is consistent with ISW’s previous assessments that even Russia’s most elite units have sustained substantial losses in Ukraine and are therefore increasingly degraded,” the ISW noted.

“The addition of newly mobilised forces to elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army is unlikely to lend these units any decisive combat power.”

Fleeing conscription

Russian mobilisation efforts, announced on September 21, have led to chaos at Russia’s borders, with a new draft office established at the Karauzek checkpoint near the border with Kazakhstan on Thursday. The office will refuse permission to leave to those who meet the mobilisation criteria and comes after thousands of people are estimated to have left the country in the last week. A draft office has already been opened on the border with Georgia after thousands of people queued to leave the country.

Protests have continued in Dagestan where head of the region, Sergei Molikov, blamed the disturbance on Ukraine’s special forces. Videos of rallies have been circulating on social media after large families, disabled people, older men and others who did not meet the criteria were mobilised.

The recent order has also led to arson attacks on several military offices, including on Thursday morning in the Leninsky and Kirovsky districts of Novosibirsk, the regional government reported on Telegram.

“Molotov cocktails were thrown into two windows, causing a fire with an area of 0.5 square metres from the outside, which was promptly liquidated,” the military office was quoted as saying by Russian media.

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Britain’s Ministry of Defence said the “considerable exodus” of people hoping to avoid the callup “likely exceeds the size of the total invasion force Russia fielded in February 2022”.

“The better off and well educated are over-represented amongst those attempting to leave Russia. When combined with those reservists who are being mobilised, the domestic economic impact of reduced availability of labour and the acceleration of ‘brain drain’ is likely to become increasingly significant.”

Russian independent media outlet MediaZona also reported on cases of men being ordered to the frontlines despite difficult family circumstances, including that of a 40-year-old father of three, one of whom has a disability, whose family claimed he had been told he would be sent to Kherson to serve.

Yevgeny Railyan’s sister Victoria told the publication that Mr Railyan completed military service in his youth but has no combat experience. He is the sole breadwinner for a family that contains three children aged 17, 12 and 2, the youngest of whom has a disability due to heart disease.

“All the documents were provided, but he was still called to the training camp one day. As soon as he came on the agenda, he was immediately ordered to go to the military training camp in the military unit in Alabino,” Victoria told the publication, saying her brother was due to be deployed to Kherson.

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