When Moscow waged war against Ukraine in February, few expected Russia to end up in a quagmire. The Russian military failed to achieve its goals, while the Ukrainians fought bravely to defend their nation. The recent pushback in the Kharkiv region further proved that Russia could not achieve its military goals under the current situation.
The Russian government takes a new procedure. President Putin has called for partial mobilization, commissioning the reserved forces and those previously served. Meanwhile, the Russian government has decided to launch referendums for the occupied areas to join Russia. Any attacks on those territories in the future could be considered total war and potentially trigger nuclear weapon use.
It is vital to notice this is only a partial mobilization, only recalling reservists. However, many Russian politicians and nationalists have called for total mobilization. Yet, a mobilization, whether partial or complete, is not a prescription to improve Moscow’s performance on the battlefield. The mobilization, in reality, could further drag Russia into a quagmire.
Russia does not have the political leverage it had before, home and abroad. Total mobilization will not change Russia’s diplomatic stalemate. The war united European countries quickly. While Russia accused Ukraine of attempting to join NATO, Finland and Sweden have applied to become NATO members, bringing NATO close to Saint Petersburg. A total mobilization is unlikely to threaten Europe and forces it to change its policy. Instead, it will further push the European countries to unite in facing Russian aggression.
Even the countries with which Russia has a closer relationship have different opinions. Indian prime minister Modi has told President Putin to take the path of peace and stop the war in a recent meeting. India has a close relationship with Russia, and Modi’s criticism is a significant blow to Putin. Even Central Asia countries have also expressed no interest in Putin’s aggression. Kazakhstan has clearly stated that it will neither send its military to fight in Ukraine nor recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. A total mobilization and an escalation of the war will further alienate Russia and its allies.
Domestically, a mobilization could further drag Putin down with his popularity. Chechnyan president Kadyrov, one of Putin’s close allies, has criticized the war’s progress, reflecting the contrary opinions among Russian elites. On the everyday citizen level, Putin has also become unpopular. Immediately after the mobilization was introduced, Russian anti-war groups called for national protests.
Militarily, the Russian war machine is not the Soviet Union military that the world trembles. The Russian army has needed a significant upgrade since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic crisis has dramatically weakened the Russian armed forces. The failure in the two Chechnyan Wars is the most obvious evidence. Putin managed to upgrade a portion of the military equipment and provided a better salary to the personnel. The Russian military still performed decently during its operation in Syria.
Yet, the scale of upgrade it needs is far from what Kremlin has offered, and the war further dragged the Russian military capacity. Before the war, Russia chose not to produce and deploy the most advanced tanks because of the lack of money, and the T-14 tank ended up being a showpiece in the military parade. The corruption within the Russian military is still a problem, leading to the lack of resources directed for military upgrades.
That’s why Russia still uses the Soviet military legacy in combat. The Russian armored forces now have to use T-64 tanks from their storage because of the significant loss at the initial stage of the war. The recruits this summer were only trained for a month before being sent to the frontline. As for the newly mobilized forces, despite the previously served reservists, it still takes time and equipment to prepare them for operation. Russia has neither of those, let alone the conscripts are also a part of the reserved forces, making them even more ineffective on the battlefield.
Moscow’s financial situation to sustain a mobilization remains a big question. Despite the excellent performance of the Russian Ruble in the currency market, Russia’s economy will still face severe challenges. Teachers are now required to donate to the war effort, a sign that the war effort is far from successful. As the announcement of mobilization comes, Moscow’s stock index drops dramatically. While the sanctions did not work as expected, the Russian economy suffered from the effects. The banks also reported significant losses in the year’s first half.
The international price of natural gas and oil has also come down from its peak since European countries finished stacking up their supply earlier. Meanwhile, UAE and Kuwait are planning to expand their production capacity of natural gas and oil. Russia’s source of income is far from stable as prices drop and exports and production decline for Russia.
War is a costly activity. In previous operations in Syria, Russia’s daily cost is around 2.4 to 4 million US dollars. That was a minor operation with mainly air force participation. With all forces in action and the war dragging on for more than 200 days, the expenses mounted. It is believed that the first week of war alone cost Russia 7 billion dollars. The Kremlin’s decree says that the newly assembled forces will be paid corresponding to the existing personnel. With that high expense, how will Russia be able to pay for the new troops? How will Russia be able to replace the equipment and supply its forces?
Moscow believed that by sheer force and lightning warfare, Kyiv would bow down to Moscow. However, this dream ended with a valiant effort from the Ukrainians to defend the country. Further mobilization may provide the short-term manpower that Russia needs, but it will not save Russia from the predicament. The bleak reality in politics, the military, and the economy has made mobilization anything but a save.