Russian “mobilization” will fail.

This campaign assessment special edition focuses on Russian military mobilization efforts. Significant inflections ISW would normally cover in its regular sections will be summarized briefly today and addressed in more detail tomorrow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to overcome fundamental structural challenges in attempting to mobilize large numbers of Russians to continue his war in Ukraine. The “partial mobilization” he ordered on September 21 will generate additional forces but inefficiently and with high domestic social and political costs. The forces generated by this “partial mobilization,” critically, are very unlikely to add substantially to the Russian military’s net combat power in 2022. Putin will have to fix basic flaws in the Russian military personnel and equipment systems if mobilization is to have any significant impact even in the longer term. His actions thus far suggest that he is far more concerned with rushing bodies to the battlefield than with addressing these fundamental flaws.

The Russian Armed Forces have not been setting conditions for an effective large-scale mobilization since at least 2008 and have not been building the kind of reserve force needed for a snap mobilization intended to produce immediate effects on the battlefield. There are no rapid solutions to these problems.

The problems Putin confronts stem in part from long-standing unresolved tensions in the Russian approach to generating military manpower. Russian and Soviet military manpower policies from 1874 through 2008 were designed to support the full mass mobilization of the entire Russian and Soviet populations for full-scale war. Universal conscription and a minimum two-year service obligation was intended to ensure that virtually all military-age males received sufficient training and experience in combat specialties that they could be recalled to active service after serving their terms and rapidly go to war as effective soldiers. Most Russian and Soviet combat units were kept in a “cadre” status in peacetime—they retained a nearly full complement of officers and many non-commissioned officers, along with a small number of soldiers. Russian and Soviet doctrine and strategy required large-scale reserve mobilization to fill out these cadre units in wartime. This cadre-and-reserve approach to military manpower was common among continental European powers from the end of the 19th century through the Cold War.

The Russian military tried to move to an all-volunteer basis amid the 2008 financial crisis and failed to make the transition fully. The end of the Cold War and the demonstration in the 1991 Gulf War of the virtues of an all-volunteer military led many states to transition away from conscription models. The Russian military remained committed to the cadre-and-reserve model until 2008, when Putin directed his newly appointed Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov to move the Russian military to a professional model and reform it to save costs following the 2008 financial crisis.[1] One such cost-cutting measure reduced the term of mandatory conscript service to 18 months in 2007 and then to one year in 2008.

The Russian military ended up with a hybrid model blending conscript and professional soldiers. Professional militaries are expensive because the state must offer prospective voluntary recruits far higher salaries and benefits than it gives to conscripts, who have no choice but to serve. Serdyukov quickly found that the Russian defense budget could not afford to offer enticements sufficient to overcome the centuries-old Russian resistance to military service. The Russian military thus became a mix of volunteer professional soldiers, whom the Russians call kontraktniki, and one-year conscripts.

The reduction in the mandatory term of service for conscripts made Russia’s reserves less combat ready. Conscripts normally reach a bare minimum of military competence within a year—the lost second year is the period in which a cadre-and-reserve military would normally bring its conscripts to a meaningful level of combat capability. The shift to a one-year term of mandatory military service in 2008 means that the last classes of Russian men who served two-year terms are now in their early 30s. Younger men in the prime age brackets for being recalled to fight served only the abbreviated one-year period.

The prioritization of building a professional force and the de-prioritization of conscript service likely translated into an erosion of the bureaucratic structures required for mobilization. Mobilization is always a bureaucratically challenging undertaking. It requires local officials throughout the entire country to perform well a task they may never conduct and rehearse rarely, if at all. Maintaining the bureaucratic infrastructure required to conduct a large-scale reserve call-up requires considerable attention from senior leadership—attention it likely did not receive in Russia over the last 15 years or so.

Putin has already conducted at least four attempts at mobilization in the last year, likely draining the pool of available combat-ready (and willing) reservists ahead of the “partial mobilization.”

  • The Russian military launched an initiative called the Russian Combat Army Reserve (the Russian acronym is BARS) in fall 2021 with the aim of recruiting 100,000 volunteers into an organization that would train them and keep them combat-capable while still in the reserves.[2] This effort largely failed, generating only a fraction of its target by the time of the Russian invasion in February 2022.
  • The Russian Armed Forces conducted an involuntary mobilization of part of its regular reserve in preparation for the invasion and in parallel with the BARS effort. Details about the pre-invasion call-up are scarce, but Western officials reported that the Russian military had recalled “tens of thousands” of reservists to fill out units before rolling into Ukraine.[3]
  • A third, smaller mobilization wave followed the invasion itself, as reports emerged of thousands of reservists being called up to make good Russian losses in early March 2022.[4]
  • Putin launched a fourth effort at mobilizing his population for war in June 2022, accelerated in July, with a call for the formation of “volunteer battalions.”[5] This undertaking was an ad hoc attempt at crypto mobilization. The Kremlin directed all of Russia’s “federal subjects” (administrative units at the province level on the whole) to generate at least one volunteer battalion each and to pay enlistment and combat bonuses out of their own budgets. This effort has generated a number of volunteer battalions, some of which have fought in Ukraine, albeit poorly.
  • Comment: There will be shouts of “neoconismus!” So what! I have tried to teach you all that information and sources must be evaluated separately. This looks right to me. pl

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 25 | Institute for the Study of War (

This entry was posted in Russia, The Military Art, Ukraine Crisis. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Russian “mobilization” will fail.

  1. John Merryman. says:

    I’m reminded of the old joke about the guy looking out the tent and seeing a bear. He starts quickly putting on his shoes, as his friend says, you can’t outrun that bear. He replies, I don’t have to outrun the bear, I have to outrun you.
    So what if Putin isn’t trying a snap mobilization, but is aiming for next spring, after Europe has had a cold winter and various countries have broken ranks, starting with Italy and Hungary, as England goes through a financial meltdown and the US is coming to terms with the results of the midterms?
    All this focus on Russia seems to miss 90% of the important factors.

    • jimmy says:


      Economic sanctions aren’t as devastating as you seem to think they are. (Cuba, NK, Iran or Russia as examples) They will be painful, but if needed, we (the West)can always invade Venezuela and take their oil.

      Next Spring, Winter will be over, along with Europe’s energy crisis. They wont be blackmailed by Putin again. With that threat gone, Russia better hope these 300k troops are worth something.

      Militarily, the 300,000 troops may be as valuable as the 80,000 troops of the “3rd Army Corps”. Whatever happened to those guys? I remember how they were going to turn the tide.

      The focus is on Russia because Russia happens to be the largest factor in whether the war continues or not. When Hungary or Italy folds, it won’t matter. When Russia folds, the war is over.

      • John Merryman says:

        Like turn around and bend over?
        Russians might have a bit of an inferiority complex at times, but I doubt they will fold.
        So, “The West” will invade Venezuala and take their oil? Would that be the US, or Europe? Somehow I suspect if the US does it, I doubt all that much of it will be quickly handed over to Europe. Especially since the Venezuelan oil industry needs a lot of repairs, after the years of sanctions.
        Where will Europe get the energy otherwise? Even the politicians in Europe are talking several years, because there are no obvious solutions. The Middle East seems close to maxed out already.
        Of course they can just keep buying the Russian oil, laundered through China and India.
        Stephen Jay Gould observed nature operates in cycles, aka, “punctuated equilibrium.” The equilibrium stage is where every niche and resource is filled and used, selecting for complexity and specialization. The punctuation stage is when the feedback starts to turn negative and all those complex connections and relationships start to break down, because the organisms can’t adapt very effectively. Europe is in that stage now. The good times are over.
        The punctuation stage selects for adaptability and resilience. And luck.
        I’ve been predicting many of those weapons sent to Ukraine will end up in European organized crime. Those armored cars of the rich and tactical vehicles of the police won’t look so intimidating, when you have an antitank weapon.

  2. Fourth and Long says:

    6, 2022 11:11
    The complete chronology of the shooting at school No. 88 in Izhevsk: merciless reprisals, rivers of blood and declarations of love
    We publish the chronology of the tragedy at school No. 88 in Izhevsk, where a former student fired

    Читайте на http://WWW.IZH.KP.RU:

    School No. 88 in Izhevsk is one of the largest in the capital of Udmurtia (1200 students) and stands on the busy central street – Pushkinskaya. Literally one block away is the City Hall. Near noisy road, parking. On September 26, a man armed to the teeth came here and opened fire – 17 people were killed, 11 of them children. Dozens of people were injured.

    The first to block the killer’s path was a 73-year-old security guard, Nikolai Kiselev. But he could not stop the massacre – he was killed by a shot at point-blank range. The second person who caught the eye of the shooter was Artyom Smirnov, a tenth grader (his name has been changed).

    The police, the FSB, the National Guard were at the scene of the emergency in five minutes. The school was cordoned off, the evacuation of children and teachers to a neighboring kindergarten began. At the same time, the security services tried to neutralize the shooter. There were a few more pops and all was quiet. The killer’s body was found in one of the classrooms. He committed suicide. Both of his pistols lay side by side. On the clips there are inscriptions “Hatred” …

    “Resentment smoldered in him for a long time”: Classmates of Artem Kazantsev explained why he staged a shooting at his native Izhevsk school
    Artem Kazantsev, who organized the execution in Izhevsk, was a neglected threesome at school

    Читайте на http://WWW.SPB.KP.RU:
    Probably unrelated:
    120 people extinguished the bath complex near Izhevsk.
    On September 26, a fire occurred in the bath complex on the territory of SNT “Flame-3” near Izhevsk. This was reported by the press service of the Ministry of Emergency Situations for Udmurtia.

    • Peter Williams says:

      The shooter was registered in a psychiatric facility with schizophrenia. He had a swastika on his T-shirt and suggestions have been made of the link between the schools number – 88, and HH Heil Hitler. Though he went to the school, his grandmother worked there and he lived nearby.

      • Fourth and Long says:

        Thanks. Another solitary nut. I tried mentioning the 88 reference in another post but it wasn’t published. I’m happy to see that yours was. I’m also thankful that your post was published. Mine are censored with an eye to portraying me in an unfavorable light. Like this one above yours where I only quoted directly from the article via translation, which I thought was not approved of. But it depicted the brutal senseless murder of Russian children without comment and that provided a chance to make it look like I in some way am in favor of such things, entirely opposite to my real point of view. So they posted it.

        • Barbara Ann says:


          “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever my blog comments are not published” – Emerson

    • Leith says:

      Was the shooter Kazantev an ethnic Russian or an Udmurt?

      Anyone care to cover a bet that he will be portrayed as Ukrainian by Putin’s propaganda organs?

      • Peter Williams says:

        The only photo that I’ve seen of him is a B&W photo from his youth. He doesn’t look Udmurt, but that doesn’t mean much with lots of intermarriages. Kazantev could indicate a Tatar origin in Kazan, but that could be generations ago.

  3. Lars says:

    What some of the Russia rooters fail to recognize is that Russia’s actions has created an existential threat to all of Europe. What they also fail to see is that Europeans like the way they live and they would not be if under Russian threats.

    It appears that Putin, et al, are trying to reinvent the Soviet Union and it is questionable whether Russians are all that excited about it. As has been pointed out, there are not a whole lot of options left for the Russian government. It is very hard to make a success out of bad ideas and we have already seen plenty.

    As has also been pointed out: Totalitarian systems are fragile, no matter how strong the internal security systems are. As far as their military, their feeble efforts are not productive when compared to how more developed countries are organizing, training and educating their personnel. There are indications that the Russian army is rapidly running out of both men and equipment and replacing either is not quick, nor easy.

    No doubt, nobody knows the final outcome, but there are trends and they are all working against Russia and as a former builder, I learned that if a project goes off the rails, it is almost impossible to put it back.

    • Bill Roche says:

      Lars; Russian rooters are only concerned about Russian worries for its “security”. They’re worried Napoleon or Hitler will invade Russia again
      while conveniently forgetting Russian invasions of others. I guess its just FLUCK security concerns for the rest of Slavic/Baltic Europe. Russia i/n trying to recreate the S.U. That state was simply a change in mgt to the Russian Empire, which is what Putin seeks to recreate. That IS the existential aspect of the war over Ukraine. W/O Ukraine Russia can not be an empire. The historically challenged not with standing, Ukraine has been trying to gain independence from Russia for 100 years. Ukrainian independence is not much different from that of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland. Look at an old map of Russia in say, 1912. That is the last hurrah of the Czar and is where Putin wishes to rtn. Yes, and FLUCK Poland too, and the rest of Europe. If Russians were good neighbors, would every single Baltic, Slavic, and Finnish state have turned their rifles east in ’91 and pointed them at Russia. They could have joined the Russian Federation, the could have joined w/Mother Russia economically, they could have advocated “pan-Slavism”. None did. Few correspondents seem to find this of note. I do.

  4. Fourth and Long says:

    Why did Mikhail Baryshnikov introduce (the recluse) James Cagney in 1980 at the Kennedy Center with President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn hosting the proceedings. Pat O’Brien comes on after that to the muted strains of When Irish Eyes Are Shining. (I almost thought my childhood wax a little teeny bit OK). But if you’re wondering why Mikhail was picked for the opening intro stay tuned or forward to 8 minutes and watch.

    Don’t jump to conclusions, oh heavenly hosts. God refrained from unleashing the deluge on the human race and all creation for hundreds of years. Because Methuselah was alive. And he was beloved by Allmighty God. He was.

  5. Otis R. Needleman says:

    Yup, see little from the “300,000 conscripts”. Underage, overage, people with medical conditions, and people with no military experience are literally being press-ganged into the Russian Army. Sending any of these men to the front line with just a week or even a month of training is simply throwing them away for nothing.

    Not only that, but where are the facilities, supplies, equipment and support for these men? Winter’s almost here in that area. Will these men get warm clothes, outerwear, and boots? Will these men be fed properly? Will there be medical services for these men? Who will train them? How about allotments to families? The list goes on, and don’t believe the Russians will successfully address the issue.

    In enacting this desperate “draft”, Putin is admitting his failure in Ukraine. Now Russian men are trying to leave the country. Don’t believe this will end well for Russia at all, sending cannon fodder when the Rodina isn’t threatened with Ukrainian invasion.

  6. Jimmy_w says:

    The ISW assessment is incomplete, because it treats the current “partial mobilization” on its own, without regard for future mobilizations. Russia will have further waves of mobilizations, until the war ends. To give a proper assessment of this partial callup, therefore, ISW should have looked at it as merely one more step of ongoing mobilizations.

    Eg, Russia likely will declare war proper, when Ukraine “invade” any one of the four “new” provinces. This would allow Russia to press gang its conscripts and deploy them into these new provinces, without anymore shenanigans it had done before. A war declaration will also allow further general mobilizations.

    For example, one analysis of immense importance, is how much slack is left in the mobilization pool. What percentage of fighting-age males have deployed, are mobilizing, have run away, and can be deployed. But of course, ISW did not address this question.

    Another question is, as more potential protesters run away, how much potential “opposition” is left in Russia to protest further mobilizations. After all, “brain drain” is not hitting all parts of Russia equally. The “liberal” part of intelligentsia is suffering more from the exodus than the war supporters. So, potentially, this “partial mobilization” might be making Russians more compliant to further mobilizations. But then, ISW did not tackle this question, either.

    Finally, point of order: Russia mobilized for the Crimean War of 1853. Which ISW failed to mention in its list of mobilizations. And Crimean War was also a war of external Conquest, somewhat similar to today.

Comments are closed.