For several weeks, the question has been coming up insistently in Western military circles: what would happen if Russia managed to send several hundred thousand additional men to Ukraine? Even poorly equipped and poorly trained, could these new soldiers overwhelm the Ukrainian defense lines, tested by nearly a year of war? “It is clear that we are going to enter a moment of massification, during which the Russians will throw all their forces into battle”worried, on January 2, on LCI, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, back from a visit to kyiv.
Stopped in their offensive by more resistant Ukrainians than they had expected, the Russians have not progressed since the capture of the cities of Lyssytchansk and Severodonetsk, in Donbass, in the east of the country, at the beginning of summer 2022. In September, troops in Moscow had great difficulty stopping the counter-offensive launched by kyiv in the Kharkiv region. In November they had to abandon the right bank of the Dnieper and the southern city of Kherson after their supply lines were cut by the Ukrainians. Since then, it has been the status quo, even if the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group say they have taken Soledar, a town in Donbass near Bakhmout, a town of 70,000 inhabitants where fighting has been raging for four months.
These clashes were deadly for the army in Moscow. The Ukrainian general staff claims to have killed more than 113,000 Russian soldiers since February 24, 2022, the equivalent of half of the contingent sent by the Kremlin. A figure impossible to verify, but partly validated by the Western military. “According to our most credible estimates, at least 60,000 Russian fighters would have been killed, for three times as many wounded, which means that around 250,000 Russian fighters would be today ‘out of service'”said Vice-Admiral Hervé Bléjean, Director of the European Union General Staff, on 16 November during a hearing at the National Assembly, held behind closed doors but the report of which was published at the beginning of January.
Stem the bleeding
To stem this haemorrhage and replenish his troops, Vladimir Putin signed a decree on September 21, 2022 ordering the “partial mobilization” of some 300,000 men. This recruitment was chaotic, the Russian army no longer having the officers or the infrastructure to train and equip so many people at the same time. However, it seems to have effects. “It is estimated that 80,000 men were engaged very quickly in Ukraine, including 50,000 directly on the battlefield. This has stabilized the numbers of the Russian army”assures Vincent Tourret, associate researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) and specialist in the Russian army. “The Kremlin has mobilized a huge number of reservists and conscripts. It is starting to produce effects, by the mass”recognizes Sébastien Lecornu.
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War in Ukraine: kyiv and its allies fear a new Russian mobilization