As a force that was once regarded as a formidable global powerhouse, the Russian military has proven to be much weaker and less capable than many expected. And according to the Pentagon, low morale and poor performance in Ukraine mean that the Russian military is actually growing weaker. Not only is the Russian military suffering manpower losses but the quality of their soldiers is decreasing as well.
“Prior to the invasion, roughly a quarter of the personnel were conscripts, and the remainder were professional soldiers. So far, we’ve seen Moscow has been trying to use largely professional soldiers, as opposed to conscripts, in the Ukraine conflict,” a senior Pentagon official told reporters this week during a background press briefing.
The official cited President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia will increase the size of its military by 137,000, something which Russian officials say will increase their force size up to 1.15 million.
“I wanted to share with you our perspective that this effort is unlikely to succeed, as Russia has historically not met personnel end strength targets. And in fact, if you look at the Russian Armed Forces prior to the invasion, they may have already been 150,000 personnel short of their million-personnel goal,” the official explained.
The official added that Russia is now massively stepping up recruiting efforts, yet it is a campaign that many in the Pentagon believe will yield few results. For example, the Russian military has eliminated the upper age limit for new recruits and recruited prisoners.
“Many of these new recruits have been observed as older, unfit and ill-trained. So what this all suggests to us is that any additional personnel Russia is able to muster by the end of the year may not, in fact, increase overall Russian capability,” the official explained.
At the same time, numbers may be a small problem compared to the collapse of morale among Russian troops. Russian forces might simply not want to kill Ukrainians and not view the war as a cause worth dying for.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.