Russia is recruiting thousands of volunteers to renew its ranks in Ukraine. Previous experience is not always required

From Murmansk in the Arctic Circle to Perm in the Urals and Primorsky Krai in the Russian Far East, the call went out, attracting both patriotic and conservative Russians.

Relevant military experience is not always required.

In all, analysts estimate that more than 30,000 volunteers may be mobilized to supplement the Russian ranks that drained five months of fighting — between a quarter and a third of the force deployed to win the eastern Donbass region, where the majority of volunteers will participate. It will likely be sent.

Putin has long resisted the idea of ​​general mobilization in Russia, and this spring’s recall was similar to the one in 2021. These battalions are one way to increase Russia’s military manpower without such a drastic step. They also seem to focus on the poorest and most isolated areas, using the lure of quick cash.

What effect these battalions have is an open question. The Chechen volunteer units played a large role in the Donbass campaign, especially in Mariupol. But they are relatively well-equipped and have extensive military experience. It is clear that the battalions that are assembled in other places do not.

“Some battalions will participate exclusively in combat support and combat support operations (such as logistics or signal battalions), while others will reinforce pre-existing military units or form combat battalions,” says Katerina Stepanenko, a Russian researcher at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.

But, she adds, “short-term training is unlikely to turn volunteers with no prior experience into effective soldiers in any unit.”

CNN has requested comment from the Russian Defense Ministry on the volunteer battalion program.

Patriotism – and money

Stepanenko says the operation is being driven by Moscow. The Kremlin has reportedly ordered all 85 Russian federal subjects (regions of the Russian Federation plus occupied Crimea and Sevastopol) to recruit volunteer battalions to avoid declaring partial or complete mobilization in Russia.

But the regions are expected to help fund the recruitment, which they say “puts a significant strain on regional budgets.” Stepanenko said the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, for example, had to allocate $2 million to the project.

The qualifications required to join vary from place to place. We invite men under the age of 49 who previously served in the army and offer a 4-month contract in your military specialty, said one of the online publications in Kazan, Tatarstan.

Elsewhere, men up to the age of 60 who do not have a criminal record are entitled. There are often no prior military experience requirements listed in online notices.

Perm’s publication – titled “Job for Real Men” – seeks “courageous, daring, courageous, self-confident, exceptional and relevant patriots of our nation”.

According to the published announcements, about one month was allotted for training – not so much for a situation where the recruits had little or no military experience. According to the standard policy of the Russian Ministry of Defense, all recruits who sign a contract must receive four weeks of combined arms training. It is unclear whether this same system extends to all volunteers.

Some volunteer battalions had already entered the Molino training ground near Nizhny Novgorod, according to social media posts.

Volunteer contracts tend to be from four months to a year. They promise wages much higher than the average in the Russian regions. For example, battalions formed in Perm and the western Russian Kirov region provide a starting income of 300,000 rubles per month (about $5,000), while in Bashkortostan, near the border with Kazakhstan, the minimum is 280,000 rubles. Bashkir volunteers from Bashkortostan promised to pay an additional 8000 rubles per day for hostilities.

“During the summer you can easily earn about a million rubles!” said an advertisement circulating on social media channels of Bashkortostan!

The average monthly wage in these regions ranges from 30,000 to 45,000 rubles, which is almost a tenth of what a volunteer would receive if he was deployed to the front lines.

Volunteers take part in a four-week training course in Primorsky Krai in Russia's Far East, where they learn how to shoot and other basic military skills.

There are other perks too. In Perm and Kirov, the children of volunteers were promised preferential admission to universities. Volunteers will be given “veteran” status, a monthly stipend for life and discounts on housing and transportation.

A measure of compensation for losses on the battlefield, in some cases more than 3 million rubles for serious injuries. If a volunteer is killed, his family will receive 12.4 million rubles from the federal budget and 2 million rubles from the district.

Some volunteers posted on the Internet told Verstka that they are paid, so that they can, for example, build a house. Others seem inspired by patriotism. Some seem to simply want an adventure.

One of them, named Vitaly, told Verstka: “I respect the achievements of our ancestors, and it is difficult for me to watch them spit. And, of course, there is a pleasant reward in the form of payments by the government.”

Others told Verstka that they were inspired by Ukraine’s de-Nazification, an indication of the power of Russia’s state media, which has worked relentlessly to block the idea that Russia’s job is to de-Nazify Ukraine.

If all Russian regions set up a battalion, the cost would be huge. Katerina Stepanenko estimates that a 400-man unit will cost $1.2 million a month in wages, which she says is too expensive because the program won’t produce elite units.

From the Arctic to Central Asia

Chechen volunteers were the first to enter Ukraine shortly after the invasion began. The Vostok battalion saw action in Mariupol, where it was prominently involved in infantry operations. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has long been an example of the Vostok battalion.

At the end of April, Kadyrov said on his Telegram channel that “hundreds of brave soldiers from different parts of our formidable country have decided to join the Russian Liberation Army.”

In May, he said, 200 “goodwill warriors” were graduating from the Russian Special Forces University in Gudermes and leaving for Ukraine every week.

By some estimates, as many as 8000 Chechens went to fight in Ukraine. They took a significant part in the campaigns to capture Severodonetsk and Lysechhansk.

Volunteers from Buryatia in the early Russian Far East also participated; Several of them were killed, including someone known to fight in Syria.

War for the South: Ukraine sets its sights on restoring cities and towns lost by Russian forces

Recently, other Russian regions have stepped up. One notable case is the Republic of Bashkortostan.

A retired naval officer, Alek Kamalitdinov, announced on social media that he was recruiting a volunteer battalion because “Bashkiria has always been the pillar of our state in difficult times. … Let us support our country and our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and not with words. But with deeds!”

Last week, the governor of Bashkortostan, Radhi Habirov, posted on Telegram: “Today we bid farewell to the 2nd Bashkir battalion in the Donbass.”

Thus, more than 800 volunteers, all from Bashkortostan, will go to the defense of our country and brother of Donbass.

Other regions that began to form volunteer battalions were Chelyabinsk in the Urals and Primorsky in the Russian Far East. Pictures of nearly 300 volunteers in Chelyabinsk were released last week.

“The battalions should be formed only from native Tatarstan, so that they can join the ranks, stand side by side, get to know each other,” the head of the recruitment office in Tatarstan, Yevgeny Tokmakov, said at a press conference.

Several units of Cossack fighters are also being formed – this is not surprising given that they participated most prominently in eastern Ukraine in 2014. The Orenburg region has already sent three Cossack battalions to the war.

The pace of recruitment is increasing – over the past few days, the Murmansk regions of the Arctic Circle and Tyumen in Western Siberia announced the formation of volunteer units.

Crowd with guns

It is not yet clear how these battalions – most of which are smaller than a regular battalion – will be integrated into the Russian operation. The Tatar and Bashkir units will turn into motorized rifle battalions.

The volunteer battalion that originated in Primorsky Krai will consist only of local residents and will go to support the 155th Marine Brigade, according to regional authorities.

There are signs that the shortage of Russian manpower in Ukraine is paying off. The Ukrainian Center for Combating Disinformation says it has found vacancies for more than 20,000 Russian contract soldiers in regional employment centers. There were persistent reports of the need to reconstitute some brigade tactical groups.

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But as one analyst puts it, a battalion is more than a “horde with guns.”

“It is likely that these poorly trained recruits were used as cannon fodder, given Russia’s previous treatment of conscripts and proxy units,” said Stepanenko of the Institute for the Study of War.

It is hard to imagine how these disparate groups with no knowledge of the battlefield and rusty or non-existent military skills will affect the conflict. The task of the infantry among the Russian troops was to a large extent the capture of places already obliterated by indirect fire.

However, Stepanenko said, the Russians “continue to incur heavy losses without gaining much ground. Thus, they need a constant influx of Russian manpower to make up for their losses.”

The Ukrainian army is tracking the formation of units. Vadim Skipetsky, a spokesman for the Main Intelligence Directorate, said Russia plans to form 16 new battalions by the end of July. “According to our estimates, there will be about 4,000 people in each region, including Crimea,” he told the Krym.Reali website. Skibitskyi confirmed to CNN that his comments were accurately reported but declined to provide further details.

Stepanenko believes that the ultimate goal is some form of mobilization by stealth.

“Putin appears to lack confidence that opinion polls and protests in support of the war will survive the general recruitment effort,” Stepanenko said. “Recruitment into volunteer battalions or covert mobilization affects only a small percentage of soldiers and their families.”

“Such a separation allows Putin to control the appearance of the invasion without disturbing most of the Russian male population and their families.”

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