On Friday, Russian state media reported that dictator Vladimir Putin had ordered the size of the Russian military to increase by 170,000 active members. This is the second time in a year that Putin has increased the size of his military. According to a statement on the Kremlin website, the overall size of the Russian military now stands at 2,209,130 personnel, of which 1,320,000 are active-duty service members.
According to deputy chair of the Russian Security Council and long-term Putin stooge Dmitry Medvedev, over 452,000 men have enlisted in the Russian army in 2023. That follows 300,000 reservists being called up for active duty in September 2022.
Before the invasion of Ukraine, there were around 800,000 active service members in the Russian military. Considering the numbers that were already mobilized and those that Medvedev says have been recruited, there should already be over 1.5 million soldiers in the Russian army. That’s not the case, and there is one big reason.
Putin is enjoying a lot of good publicity at the moment. It’s not “good” in the sense that he’s done something good—in fact, on Thursday Russia declared simply being gay makes someone “an extremist” and ramped up an already steep program of restrictions and persecutions. Instead, Putin is getting a boosts from The Economist in an article titled “Putin seems to be winning the war in Ukraine—for now,” and from an editorial in The Washington Post that declares that the Russian economy has stabilized, public opinion has moved solidly in favor of the war, and Putin’s regime “looks more stable than at any other time in the past two years.”
Not only that, but European allies are increasingly worried about how the pro-Russian position of Republicans in Congress and distractions caused by the war between Israel and Hamas signal a bleak future for American military support of Ukraine. Delays delivering long-range GLSDB rockets are being read by Ukrainian sources as a decline in American support.
In short: Putin is expanding the military; the Russian economy is enjoying a burst of activity (in large part because oligarchs are finding it harder to spend their money abroad); Russia has a fresh batch of military supplies from China and North Korea; and as all that’s making hearts warm in Moscow, Ukraine is coming off a largely unsuccessful summer offensive and entering a winter in which it seems support for their cause is declining.
On top of everything else, earlier this week Putin signed a new budget that greatly expands the Russian military budget. Under this budget, military expenses exceed the cost of everything else in the Russian government. According to one Russia expert, Putin wants the invasion of Ukraine completed so he can be “ready for a military confrontation with the West in perpetuity.”
It’s completely understandable that Ukrainians, supporters of Ukraine, and even those whose only interest is seeing Russia’s future military ambitions dulled are not feeling like this is the best of all holiday seasons.
However, there’s a big difference between Putin having temporarily stabilized his position at one end of a very long table, and declaring that the war is lost—or even being lost.
In May, Russia was offering new contract soldiers a $2,400 sign-on bonus. It’s now paying $7,000. That immediate payment upon sign-up is now over half the median annual salary in Russia, and far more than most men living in rural areas can earn in a year. On top of that, the average wage of a Russian soldier in Ukraine is now reportedly three times the average national salary.
If the Russian military is seeing a wave of recruits and the public is being more supportive of Putin, it’s because he’s paying them an unprecedented amount to go to Ukraine and be a part of this:
According to some Telegram reports, Russian men are being driven to the recruiting station by wives or parents eager to pick up that fat check … even if it means they never return.
There’s a reason why Putin needs all those men and why he’s willing to pay for them. Over the last year of the war, most Russian success has been marked by a single tactic: meat waves. Russia throws out a group of men to be slaughtered. Then throws out another. And another … all in hopes that the wave of bodies will carry them to their objective.
It worked in Bakhmut, where Wagner Group forces drove tens of thousands of poorly trained prisoner troops in attacks that sometimes resulted in mounds of bodies. It didn’t work at Vuhledar, despite repeated efforts. Russia is trying it again at Avdiivka, where … we’ll get to that.
Russia is pouring more money into its military, but there’s little sign that money is expanding their ability to manufacture new arms or speed up the supply of equipment. For that, Russia is buying drones from Iran, artillery from North Korea, and counting on China to supply most of the other needs for its army of occupation. It’s paying soldiers to go to the front, using a temporary burst of revenue that is absolutely not guaranteed to last.
So far there are few signals that this strategy is doing more than allowing Russia to largely hold on to what territory it still occupies in Ukraine. That could change for the better (or worse) at any moment. But right now, the only thing the numbers show is that the invasion of Ukraine is becoming an increasingly costly enterprise for Russia, and even a huge increase in men and money hasn’t given them any significant advances in months.
For most people, that’s not what winning looks like.
Russia did manage three very small advances on Friday.
One of these was in the Bakhmut area, where Russian forces continued an advance from the heights around Dubovo-Vasylivka. The advance in this area was less than one-half of a kilometer. However, Russia has picked up several areas on the north and west of Bakhmut in the last two weeks after months in which Ukraine seemed to be on the offensive. At this point, Russia still doesn’t seem to fully control the village of Khromove, which they reached earlier this week.
Maybe the most disappointing change was a reversal north of Avdiivka. In the past several days, Ukraine had managed to drive Russian forces from Stepove and from areas west of the rail line. On Thursday, they had even pushed across the rail line and threatened an accumulation of Russian armor and infantry that had gathered north of the big hill of mine waste known as Terrikon. However, on Friday that gathering of Russian forces drove west, reversing the tide of the week, re-crossing the rail lines, and moving in the eastern portion of Stepove. Dammit.
The third Russian gain was by far the smallest, but also reportedly the most costly. Russia picked up about four square blocks in Marinka on Friday. Ukrainian sources indicate those blocks were responsible for the bulk of those 1,280 men that Russia reportedly lost on Friday.
Ukraine reportedly made gains north of Novoprovopivka, though those are not yet reflected on Deep State’s map. There seems to be something of a circling motion underway, with Ukrainian forces pressing south in an area roughly 1 kilometer west of Robotyne, and Russian forces trying to move north right beside them. The level of artillery and drone activity from both sides remains high in this area.
The biggest movement for Ukraine seems to be in an area that hasn’t generated a lot of news in the last two weeks: Staromaiorske and Urozhaine, in the direction of Mariupol. Both these towns have taken a battering from Russian artillery and survived multiple attempts by Russia to retake the area. On Friday, Ukraine reportedly made gains west of Staromaiorske. This movement takes them closer to higher ground. In addition to the area circled, some sources are also indicating that Ukraine has taken the area north of that small river just to the northwest (the area around that red arrow). But this is not yet confirmed.
I’m honestly not sure what conclusions to draw from this. Are Russian attacks getting progressively smaller? Are they using a higher ratio of infantry to armor?
It could also be that Ukraine is running low on the artillery and drones needed to stop Russian advances, but Russia doesn’t seem to have made the kind of gains that would indicate such a change in the balance.
A heartwarming tale for the holidays: