Russia's Draftee Ticking Time Bomb
Thousands will exit Ukraine soon with tales of woe, says retired Army General and Russia hand Kevin Ryan
Russia’s troubled armed forces in Ukraine are sitting on another ticking time bomb: the end of one-year draft enlistments for young men called up last spring. And that spells trouble for the Kremlin, which has been peddling the line that everything's going pretty swell in Ukraine.
“In Russia, all men between the ages of 18 and 27 are eligible for conscription, and almost a quarter-million members of the military are draftees serving 12-month terms,” which began last week during the annual three-month conscription call-up, noted the military news site Task and Purpose back in February.
Retired U.S. Army General Kevin Ryan, a longtime Russian hand at the Pentagon, tells SpyTalk that many—maybe tens of thousands or more— are going to go home from Ukraine with tales of woe.
“About 134,000 enlisted soldiers are going to leave the Russian force in the next couple months, Ryan told SpyTalk podcast co-host Jeanne Meserve. “And they're going to go back home with stories and impressions and whatever morale they had, they're gonna take back with them. And the impact of those people on Russian society…is gonna be tremendous.”
Ryan, who spent two years in Moscow as the U.S. military attaché 20 years ago, said he was shocked by the lack of discipline demonstrated by Russian forces in Ukraine, because the military had been on a program of reforming and professionalizing the army since around 2008.
“But what we're seeing in Ukraine goes beyond just indiscipline among the troops. The scope of it means it has to have been condoned, tolerated or maybe even orchestrated by the officer corps, which is a huge shock to me,” said Ryan, now with the Belfer Center at Harvard's Kennedy School. He conceded that Russian troops had compiled records of brutality in Chechnya and Afghanistan, but that in regards to Ukraine, “any Russian officer…will tell you this is wrong and this should not happen. So they know the difference between right and wrong here.”
So why have Russian troops engaged in well documented rape, pillaging and plunder, not to mention the indiscriminate bombing of apartment buildings and hospitals?
Perhaps “the training of the Russian enlisted has not been as good as it should have been, or as it was thought to be on paper…but also the fact that about 40% of the Russian military is still made of conscripts,” Ryan said.
“Russian soldiers are looked on as temporary workers…only expected to serve for a few years, and conscripts just one,” so the Kremlin skimps on the pay and creature comforts typically afforded U.S. and NATO troops, he said.
“These are people who are ill trained and unable really to function unless an officer is standing right behind them.” Ryan said. And that helps explain why so many higher ranking officers, even generals, have been killed in Ukraine. It’s because “the junior officers have not got the leadership qualities or experience to make sure that the tough things that are necessary to do get done. And so the senior officers are coming down to the ranks and the front lines to make sure things get done, and that exposes them.”
Listen to the full, fascinating interview here, at our home at MSW Media, or wherever you get your podcasts.
I can think of one easy fix for expiring enlistments. Extend them. It was done routinely by the US during the 1960s, and solves two problems; attrition due to battlefield losses and return of real information from combat scarred troops to the homeland.