For a long time, everyone believed that Russia had one of the most powerful armies in the world. However, the war in Ukraine showed that it was overestimated. Vladimir Putin’s army is much weaker than he made it out to be.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow did everything it could to maintain its superpower status – including as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. However, the gross domestic product of the country did not correspond to the idea of a superpower – in the field of economy, the Soviet Union could not measure up to most Western countries at all. Therefore, the Kremlin justified its ambitions mainly with its military power: for a long time, Russia claimed that it had one of the largest and most capable armies in the world, also possessing nuclear weapons. And to make sure there is no doubt about it, President Vladimir Putin has been demonstrating Russian military might to the whole world with well-choreographed military parades in Moscow or maneuvers of the Russian armed forces.
How capable his army is, however, was seen not on marches under command in Red Square, but in the trenches of the battlefield: now in Eastern Ukraine, the Russians are outnumbered by a significantly smaller army that didn’t even exist until a few years ago. How is that possible?
How many are Putin’s soldiers?
On paper, the Russian armed forces number 1 million people, and in the future their number should increase to 1.1 million, Margarete Klein from the German Foundation “Science and Politics” told Deutsche Welle. In reality, however, the Russian army is smaller, she clarifies. A large part of combat-ready Russian units were already used in the war in Ukraine. “They suffered heavy losses in terms of soldiers killed or wounded,” said the defense expert. However, there are no exact data on this. But U.S. intelligence estimates Russian losses totaled tens of thousands of soldiers killed and wounded.
The main victims were fighters who were stationed in the Asian part of Russia in peacetime, says George Barros of the American think tank “Institute for the Study of War”. The notion that reservists will make the Russian army more combat-ready has nothing to do with reality, he told Deutsche Welle. “The course of the war so far proves that the world has long overestimated the power of the Russian army,” Baros is convinced.
Old weapons, inexperienced soldiers
The current mobilization also speaks eloquently about the actual power of the Russian army. “These are men over 50 who have health problems,” says the expert. Numerous examples from social media confirm this observation.
Before joining combat operations, reservists must undergo training and receive the necessary equipment, Barros emphasizes. However, for many of them, this military training will be reduced to one or two months of training, which is not enough at all. And there will be those who will be sent to the front without any training or equipment. Therefore, Barros does not believe that any military success can be achieved with such reserves. The result will only be more dead and wounded, the expert adds.
This is also the opinion of Russian security expert Pavel Luzin, who is currently in the United States. He believes that Ukrainians will continue to fight for their freedom, regardless of the so-called referendums held by Putin’s minions in eastern Ukraine. In addition, the Russian military-industrial complex is unable to quickly fill the needs of the army – not to mention conscripted conscripts. It relies on old Soviet-era weapons from arsenals, adds Margarete Klein.
It is not clear, however, whether under various corruption schemes a part of this weapon has already been sold, and to what extent the available such weapon is suitable for waging war. “The Russian arms industry lacks chips for high-precision weapons and other spare parts,” says Klein. Russia’s advantage is that it has a huge human resource and can constantly send new and new reservists to the war, Ted Carpenter of the CATO Institute in Washington told Deutsche Welle.
To be successful in war, several things are needed, says George Barros: soldiers, modern weapons, good training, leadership, motivation, logistics – and this is just one part of them. “Just sending more men to the front will not solve the problem that the Russians have”, he adds and recalls that the Ukrainian offensive is still ongoing, and the Russians will be satisfied if they manage to hold their positions.
The nuclear threat should frighten the West
Experts agree that with its threat to use nuclear weapons, Russia aims to intimidate the West. This is how support for Ukraine should be undermined. Purely military use of nuclear weapons does not bring anything, the meaning of this can only be political – if the regime in Moscow faces a military defeat. Margarete Klein from the Foundation “Science and Technology” considers it unlikely that Russia will resort to the use of nuclear weapons, including because then Putin would lose the support of China or India. However, Ted Carpenter claims that if Putin had to choose whether to use nuclear weapons or answer for his crimes before an international court, he would choose the nuclear option, writes “Deutsche Welle”.
Russia continues to want a quick end to the war, and Ukraine and the West should show readiness for negotiations, the expert from the CATO Institute also says. Margarete Klein and George Barros think the exact opposite – they do not believe that the war will end soon. “Putin hopes that the West will stop supporting Ukraine, and the outcome of the war depends on this support,” says Klein. Russian expert Pavel Luzin is of the opinion that this war will end only when Russia is completely defeated.