Putin's call-up won't make a dent in Ukraine for months and is already sowing panic at home with protests and people racing to get out of the country

Putin's call-up won't make a dent in Ukraine for months and is already sowing panic at home with protests and people racing to get out of the country
Vladimir Putin stands at a podium with his hands raised.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during an event to mark the 1160th anniversary of Russia's statehood in Veliky Novgorod on September 21, 2022.Photo by ILYA PITALEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images
  • Putin on Wednesday announced a partial military mobilization order seven months into the Ukraine war.

  • But experts say the move is unlikely to bolster Russia's struggling military performance.

  • Mobilization of troops takes time, training, and infrastructure  — all of which Russia is lacking.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a partial mobilization of Russia's military in an effort to combat the country's glaring manpower problem amid the war in Ukraine. But more than seven months into the conflict, Putin's late-in-the-game decision is unlikely to change the tides of war anytime soon, according to experts.

Putin launched his unprovoked war against Ukraine in February, but it took seven months and a series of recent Ukrainian victories for the president to publicly escalate his country's war efforts.

Russia experts and foreign countries alike are in agreement that Putin's Wednesday morning speech — which included threats of nuclear force — was a sign that the country's invasion is going poorly, and Putin knows it.

The president announced this week that Russia will call up 300,000 reservists to join the fight, but mobilization at that level can take months to produce results, according to experts. Ukraine, on the other hand, ordered full military mobilization just days after the war began and is just now reaping the benefits.

"It's really difficult to imagine a way in which this actually has a big impact on the battlefield," Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, told Insider.

It could take more than a month for reservists to deploy

One of the major obstacles to Russia's mobilization aspirations is the country's depleted military infrastructure.

"It's one thing to call up reservists, but to make them combat effective, you need to run them through a training process of some sort that takes several weeks at least," Miles said. "But the Russians have basically cannibalized their capacity to do that."

As Russia first began to confront its personnel problem early in the war, military divisions that lacked manpower turned to the country's training infrastructure, Miles said. Officers who had spent years working at training facilities were suddenly thrust back into combat roles and forced to take their training equipment with them.

"As a result, all of those training resources are empty," Miles said, which means Russia will be forced to send "under-trained" people to the frontlines.

The country will also have to contend with the bureaucratic logistics of mobilization: "We haven't seen a lot of evidence in the last six months that they can do that," Miles added.

A Ukrainian soldier stands among ammunition.
A Ukrainian soldier inspects ammunition left by the Russian troops in the recently retaken area close to Izium, Ukraine, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.AP Photo/Oleksandr Ratushniak

Russian soldiers' motivation is weakening, while Ukraine's is 'sky-high'

Even if Russia can train and deploy hundreds of thousands of troops in the coming weeks, it may not be enough to address the underlying issues plaguing its war effort, according to Robert English, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies Russia, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe.

"It's not a problem that a few hundred thousand troops can solve. That's sort of a finger in the dike of something bigger that is very shaky right now," English told Insider, explaining that another successful Ukrainian counteroffensive could collapse Russia's goals.

In addition to needing more manpower, Russia is also at a technical military disadvantage, he said. The US and the rest of the West have provided Ukraine with an abundance of military aid in the form of weapons, training, and intelligence, all of which Russia is struggling to match. Whereas Ukrainian attacks are precisely targeted to hit Russian command posts or artillery holds, Russia's are much less reliable and scattered, English said.

He also agreed it could take several weeks or months to prepare the reservists, and even then they're unlikely to be as effective as their Ukrainian counterparts.

"These people being called up, don't want to be called up," English said, adding that the new soldiers will compound a military that reports have described has demoralized nearly since the war began.

"The Russian motivation is weakening among the ordinary soldier. The Ukrainian motivation is sky high," English said, adding that between disparate levels of morale and advanced military power, one Ukrainian soldier is worth as much as five Russians.

And while Putin has only called up a few hundred thousand soldiers, for now, it's going to take a lot more than that for Russia to address the imbalance with Ukraine, he added.

A Russian activist holds a sign among protesters.
An activist participates in an unsanctioned protest at Arbat Street September 21, 2022 in Moscow, Russia.Photo by Contributor/Getty Images

Resistance from the Russian public is growing

It's not just military experts who have their doubts about Russia's mobilization. The Russian people are increasingly wary as well.

Throughout the war thus far, Putin has benefitted from the realities of warfare remaining contained in Ukraine, seemingly out of sight and out of mind for the Russian public. But Wednesday's announcement was a wartime wake-up call, Miles said.

Russians across the country took to the streets following Putin's speech, sparking protests and chants of "no to war."  OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group, reported more than 500 arrests in various cities as of Wednesday evening in Moscow.

Meanwhile, several one-way plane tickets out of Russia sold out hours after Putin's speech, while prices for other tickets out of Moscow skyrocketed.

They're all signs that attitudes in Russia are shifting.

"Who wants to spend winter in a trench in Ukraine getting shelled?" Miles said. "No one."

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