Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian military to increase its number of soldiers by 137,000 to a total of 1.15 million servicemen amid Moscow’s military action in Ukraine.
Putin’s decree, which takes effect on January 1, did not specify whether the military will beef up its ranks by drafting a bigger number of conscripts, increasing the number of volunteer soldiers or using a combination of both.
The decree issued on Thursday will boost the overall number of Russian military personnel to 2,039,758, including 1,150,628 servicemen. A previous order put the military’s numbers at 1,902,758 and 1,013,628 respectively at the start of 2018.
The Kremlin has said that only volunteer contract soldiers take part in what it calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Russian media and non-governmental organisations say Russian authorities have sought to bolster the number of troops involved in the military action in Ukraine by attracting more volunteers, engaging private military contractors and even offering amnesty to some prisoners in exchange for a tour of military duty.
Regional authorities have also tried to beef up the ranks, forming volunteer battalions to be deployed to Ukraine.
All Russian men aged 18-27 must serve one year in the military but a large share avoids the draft for health reasons or deferments granted to university students. The share of men who dodge the draft is particularly big in Moscow and other big cities.
The Russian military rounds up draftees twice a year, starting on April 1 and October 1. Putin ordered the drafting of 134,500 conscripts during the latest spring draft earlier this year and 127,500 last autumn.
In recent years, the Kremlin has emphasised increasing the share of volunteer contract soldiers as it sought to modernise the army and improve its readiness. Before the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, the Russian military had more than 400,000 contract soldiers, including about 147,000 in the ground forces.
The number of conscripts has been estimated at approximately 270,000, and officers and non-commissioned officers have accounted for the rest.
Pressure in Ukraine
Military observers have noted that if the campaign in Ukraine drags on, those numbers could be clearly insufficient to sustain the operations in Ukraine, which has declared a goal of forming a one-million-strong military.
Russia has not said how many casualties it has suffered in Ukraine since the first weeks of the invasion when it said 1,351 of its soldiers had been killed.
Western estimates say the actual number could be at least 10 times that, while Ukraine says it has killed or wounded at least 45,000 Russian troops since the conflict started.
Colonel Retired Viktor Murakhovsky noted that Putin’s decree on Thursday reflected the pressure of filling the ranks amid the military action in Ukraine.
In comments carried by the RBC online news outlet, he charged that the Kremlin would likely try to keep relying on volunteers and predicted that they would account for the bulk of the increase ordered by the Kremlin.