A half-dozen Russian soldiers describe being shipped to an area of intense fighting in eastern Ukraine only 11 days after being mobilized. “Once,” a bearded conscript says when asked about his shooting practice. Three publications.”
In a town near Yekaterinburg, central Russia, newly mobilized men march in street clothes. “There are no machine guns, no clothes, no shoes,” says an unidentified observer. “Half of them are hungover, elderly, and in danger — the ambulance should be on call.”
Hundreds of relatives of newly drafted Russian soldiers crowd outside a training center, passing items to the recruits through its fence — boots, berets, bulletproof vests, backpacks, sleeping bags, camping mats, medicine, bandages, and food.
Despite draconian laws prohibiting criticism of Ukraine’s “special military operation,” Russian social media is awash with images like the ones above, captured in widely circulated videos. Such posts are criticizing the Ministry of Defense for doing exactly what Western military experts predicted: rushing thousands of newly drafted, untrained, and ill-equipped soldiers to Ukraine, too desperate to plug defensive gaps to mold the men into cohesive units.
President Vladimir V. Putin confirmed at a news conference on Friday that 16,000 recruits had already been deployed to combat units, with some receiving as little as five to ten days of training. He said the recruits were desperately needed because the front in Ukraine stretched for nearly 700 miles, and that training would continue there.
The evidence of a lack of training is anecdotal, but the sheer number of videos from across Russia, as well as scattered threats from draftees to strike over the conditions, other news reports, and commentaries, highlight the scope of the issues.
A recruit from Moscow assigned to the First Tank Regiment — a storied unit hit hard early in the invasion — said in one widely circulated video that the regimental commander had announced that there would be no shooting practice or even theoretical training before the men deployed.
The Belgorod governorate announced that the majority of the men would be sent back to central Russia for further training. The training conditions were even condemned by the governor of the neighboring Kursk region, Roman Starovoit. He talked about ruined canteen buildings, rusted or broken showers, and a lack of beds and uniforms.
Chelyabinsk governorate was among the first to officially announce the deaths of untrained soldiers on Thursday, with five killed in eastern Ukraine. The announcement did not go into detail, but friends and relatives of the men told the BBC’s Russian service that they were deployed “like meat” with no combat training.
Similarly, Aleksei Martynov, the 28-year-old head of a department in Moscow’s city government, was killed in Ukraine just days after being mobilized, according to Natalya Loseva, a journalist with the state-run RT television channel, who reported on Telegram. Her claim could not be independently verified.
Hundreds of thousands of draftees may temporarily halt Ukrainian advances, but military analysts believe Russia will struggle to reverse its fortunes in the months ahead.
Russia’s lines in eastern Ukraine have repeatedly crumbled under the onslaught of better-trained, more motivated troops. According to analysts, the Russian military lacks cohesive units in which infantry, artillery, and air power are trained to work together.
Andrei Gurulev, a hardline federal Parliament deputy and senior reserve officer, wrote on Telegram that it would take at least one or two months for Russia to deploy trained units. Others predicted that it would take until the winter. According to the Ukrainian general staff, some Russian military cadets are being released early to become officers.
The Soviet Union maintained a permanent military training infrastructure, which was dismantled following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. With the outbreak of the war, military trainers were dispatched to Ukraine, leaving units scrambling to fill the void with veterans or military academies.
Last spring, men in the Donbass were snatched from the streets and sent straight to the front lines. However, attitudes shifted amid the carnage, according to Kirill Mikhailov, a researcher at the Conflict Intelligence Team, a Russian organization founded to track conflicts involving Russian troops. Officials in the region realized that they had “squandered their manpower for little gain,” he said, and so they knew they would need to make better soldiers out of the Russian recruits.