General

Russia’s Inevitable Border Crisis

Russia’s Inevitable Border Crisis thumbnail
  • Fractures are beginning to grow within Russia’s military leadership as losses continue to mount.
  • Mobilization in Russia has been chaotic and demonstrates a shortage of training facilities and even basic equipment for fresh recruits.
  • Russia became a state without internationally recognized borders, and with Ukraine recapturing cities within annexed territories, a border crisis may be inevitable.

In July 2022, military analysts loyal to the Kremlin noted that Russia lacked the manpower for a massive offensive (Topwar.ru, July 23). At the beginning of September, Russian pro-war experts predicted a “radical increase in the Russian contingent” due to the transfer of other units of the regular army to Ukraine, now located on the Russian border (YouTube, September 2). It is quite logical that, to “legalize” the transfer of conscripts to the front, Moscow needed a formal declaration of the occupied regions of Ukraine as “Russian territory.” However, even this, combined with the replenishment of the army with new conscripts, will not solve the Kremlin’s problems.

Despite defeats at the front, Russian President Vladimir Putin does not appear to have abandoned his plans to attack Odesa and Mykolaiv, especially if he fails to persuade Ukraine and the West to accept the annexation of the occupied Ukrainian territories (Meduza, July 21). However, analysts seriously doubt the possibility of such an offensive. Mobilization in Russia has been chaotic and demonstrates a shortage of training facilities and even basic equipment for fresh recruits (see EDM, September 29).

In early October 2022, the governor of Kursk region, Roman Starovoyt, who visited the military facilities of the newly mobilized soldiers, described the decrepit conditions there: “Wrecked dining room, broken and rusty showers, not enough beds and those that exist are falling apart. Lack of uniforms, parade ground looks like it was bombed” (Nakanune.ru, October 5). Volunteers from various Russian regions do not hide the fact that they have to provide basic medicines and everyday items for themselves, including rugs, sleeping bags, warm linens and dishes, among other essentials (Eanews.ru, September 28).

More videos are appearing each day in which enlistment offices are instructing conscripts to buy everything themselves: from first-aid kits to women’s tampons, which can be used as hemostatic agents (Inauka.ru, September 27). Some well-known propagandists openly admit that, out of all the Russian regions, only one has considered vaccinating those mobilized against COVID-19, influenza and pneumococcus and that, even without mobilization, after the fall draft, hospitals are full of conscripts with pneumonia” (T.me/vityzeva, October 4).

The combat training of the new military is not faring any better. British journalists note that people who have never served in the military are often drafted and sent to the front with little or no training. In addition, the Russian army is in dire need of experienced junior combat commanders (Bbc.com/russian, October 5). Against this backdrop, it will be problematic for Russia to hold the already captured territories, not to mention mount an offensive.

However, front-line failures are only part of the Kremlin’s new problems. As expected, the mobilization has led to increased discontent and anxiety in Russian society (see EDM, September 20). According to the latest survey by the Levada Center, 47 percent of Russians experienced anxiety or fear upon learning of the “partial mobilization” decree. Meanwhile, support for the actions of Russian troops was at its lowest level since the beginning of the war, amounting to only 44 percent (Meduza, September 29).

Military propaganda increasingly claims that the war gave Russia a chance to rebuild its economy and free itself from economic enslavement; however, this has turned out quite the opposite in practice (see EDM, August 15). Ilya Grashchenkov, director of the Center for Regional Policy Development, admitted that mobilization is destroying Russian entrepreneurship and leading to a mass exodus of startups from the country, which is becoming “hardly interesting for business development” (T.me/russica2, October 5).

In addition to problems with mobilization, defeats at the front have led to a new round of conflicts in the Russian military leadership, which are now being fought openly. At the beginning of October 2022, the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, and the founder of the notorious private-military company Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, publicly criticized the Russian General Staff and Ministry of Defense, accusing Colonel General Alexander Lapin of surrendering Krasny Liman and the military leadership of covering up Lapin’s incompetence and negligence. The military, in turn, said that such statements are harmful and hinder the attainment of the common goal (Ura.ru, October 5).

However, Kadyrov has a number of supporters among the professional military. Publications on the website Military Review, which is close to the Russian Ministry of Defense, clearly show that a split has occurred not only between the regular army and other paramilitary formations but also within the Russian army itself. Thus, a number of authors on the site have sharply criticized the Ministry of Defense, accusing it of “strange and illogical actions against the backdrop of deathly silence” (Topwar.ru, October 3). Some publications directly accuse the generals of incompetence in that they draw beautiful reports and put them on the Supreme Commander’s table but do not tell the real story (Topwar.ru, October 4).

However, these difficulties pale compared to the long-term problems caused by annexing the occupied territories in Ukraine. After the capture of Crimea, Russia became a state without internationally recognized borders. Now, these boundaries have become completely blurred. Moscow announced that the new territories would become part of Russia within their existing borders on the day of their formation and annexation (RBC, October 2). According to this logic, Krasny Liman, recently liberated by Ukrainian troops, is also considered a “Russian” city (Pravda.com.ua, October 1). This fact testifies to several points.

First, what the Kremlin calls “Russia” today has become a territory of war, since formally, according to Russian law, there is no difference between Liman and, say, Belgorod. The liberation of Liman also became a clear signal to other Russian regions that Moscow can easily lose control over its “territory,” and the federal government is in no way able to interfere with this process. Indeed, Russian military analysts are already expressing their indignation at the fact that “for the first time since the end of the Great Patriotic War, a Russian city has been handed over to the enemy,” revealing the “deepest crisis” of the Russian army (Topwar.ru, October 2).

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian opposition politician and former head of Yukos, expressed similar thoughts. According to him, with the annexation of Ukrainian territories, Putin formalized the collapse of his own state, since the peoples of Russia can also exercise the right to self-determination, to which the Russian leader so insistently appeals. Khodorkovsky expressed confidence that, after Putin loses the war in Ukraine, similar referendums will be held “all over Russia” (YouTube, October 4).

By The Jamestown Foundation

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