Analyses

The independent Russian media writes about the dead soldiers, Syrian mercenaries and the failure of a possible general mobilization called by the Kremlin

A picture taken during a visit to Mariupol organized by the Russian military shows Russian servicemen guard the territory of the cargo sea port in Mariupol, Ukraine, 29 April 2022.
© EPA-EFE/SERGEI ILNITSKY   |   A picture taken during a visit to Mariupol organized by the Russian military shows Russian servicemen guard the territory of the cargo sea port in Mariupol, Ukraine, 29 April 2022.

Susține jurnalismul independent

Tens of thousands of people have left Russia in the last three months due to oppression, condemning the aggression in Ukraine. Many have stayed however, continuing to oppose the establishment and to take part in anti-war actions. A large number of journalists, activists and human rights militants have no intention of letting up, despite the repressive legislation and the risk of facing criminal punishments. Veridica has selected a number of topics from the top independent sources in Russia.

INSIDER: Coming to Donbas to meet a swift death. How and why is Russia bringing Syrian mercenaries to Ukraine

Over a month has now passed since Shoigu announced that 16,000 volunteers from the Middle East will come to Ukraine to fight. So far, no Syrian regiments have been observed on the battlefield. However, the Kremlin is trying to recruit Syrian combatants, using the despair of the people in this worn-torn country to create the fragile illusion of international support, INSIDER writes.

In early February, an information appeared on social media, according to which the Wagner Group (a private military outfit) was recruiting Syrian refugees for the war in Ukraine. Long before that, various Facebook groups in Syria, some devoted to buying or renting homes, distributed ads encouraging partnerships with “Russian friends”. The destinations were unusual: Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya, Mali, the Central African Republic and even Venezuela.

Contracts Wagner offered to work and see the world varied between 300 and 1,000 USD per month – which is a considerable amount of money for a country where 90% of the population lives below the poverty line, without electricity, clean water and gas. […]

Who are these Syrian mercenaries?

Russian officials claim Syrians are ready to die for Russia in this war for ideological reasons, but it would be wrong to assume that. The vast majority of mercenaries are young uneducated people without real prospects, willing to risk their lives for a few hundred or thousand dollars a month. Even so, the lowest salary exceeds the average wage in Syria ten times. Apart from that, many of these mercenaries hope to reach European countries by transiting Ukraine.

The majority of Syrian mercenaries are people who find themselves in desperate situations, a commodity that can be sold off and sent to hot spots around the globe.

Syria is a diverse country, which has contributed to protracting the war in this country. Wagner mercenaries also include representatives of all Syrian ethnic and religious communities: Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Christians, Palestinians, Armenians and Druze. Therefore, Russia is using mercenaries from various sides of the Syrian political spectrum.

According to original reports about the enrolment of so-called volunteers for the war in Ukraine, the most sought-after were people with a high degree of military experience and loyalty. For instance, people who fought in the Arab Syrian Army or those who had previously taken part in military operations led by officers of the Russian Army, more specifically the elite 25th Special Forces Division, who worked closely with Russian troops in Syria. […]

Whereas in early March Russia was looking for people with experience in elite units, towards the end of the month the search shifted, and according to reports, everyone who wished to sign up would end up on the list. Apart from regular pay, the Syrian regime started to resort to other incentives to reward the so-called volunteers, such as releasing their family members from prison or writing off administrative fines.

Nevertheless, the recruitment campaign did not enjoy the success the Kremlin and the Assad regime had both expected. […]

The main goal of training foreign combatants was an attempt to minimize the political damage caused by Russian losses. […]

The participation of Syrian mercenaries in the war in Ukraine also depends on military technology and supplies, two areas where the Russian army is facing serious shortcomings. It is possible logistics might explain why there is no solid evidence that Syrian mercenaries are fighting in Ukraine.

Most media outlets publish inconsistent figures, but the 16,000 Syrian fighters Russia had announced is an overstatement at best. Still, it’s too early to rule out the possibility that several hundred Syrian fighters will come to Ukraine, all the more so as the war will continue with equally high losses for Russia. […]

ISTORIES: Young, poor, dead

The war in Ukraine has accelerated the depopulation of Russia. The death rate among young men has increased a few times across the country, according to an article published by ISTORIES.

The war Russia launched in Ukraine has been raging for three months. During this time, the Russian Ministry of Defense published only two death tolls. The first time, on March 25, the General Staff reported 1,351 dead. Since then, Moscow authorities have kept silent regarding human losses. At the same time, the United Kingdom has already announced the death of 15,000 Russian soldiers, while according to information released by Ukraine on April 30, Russia has already lost 23,000 troops in the war.

There is no official list of military casualties in Russia. In isolated cases, deaths are typically announced by the governors of oblasts where the soldiers had lived, or in schools and sports clubs where they studied or trained. Only independent sources and volunteers keep a record of the number of dead. Mediazona has identified over 1,700 obituaries for Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine. The Russian-language BBC Service, confirmed public information about 1,899 Russian soldiers who were killed by April 29.

ISTORIES made a list of messages published on the Goriușko Telegram account, which gathers information about dead soldiers. We have verified this information and have ascertained the address of residence and the date of birth of those who were killed. So far, we were able to determine the death of 1,855 people.

8 out of 10 people who were killed were under 35

During the two months of fighting, soldiers were reported dead all across the Russian oblasts, with the exception of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. However, data varies from one oblast to another. For instance, the list of casualties includes only three names from the Moscow Oblast, which is home to 9% of the population of the Russian Federation. In Buryatia, on the other hand, which is home to approximately one million inhabitants, accounting for less than 1% of Russia’s total population, at least 91 have been confirmed dead.

Ranking first on the list of men aged 18 to 45 who were killed in the war is the oblast of Buryatia, followed by Tyva, North Ossetia, Kostroma and the Altai Republic.

The death rate went up a few times across oblasts

Overall, mostly young soldiers are killed in the war. The average age of dead military is 28 years. Over 80% of those who were killed were aged 18-35, while 40% were under 25.

Due to the war, mortality rate among Russia’s younger generations went up by nearly 25%. In times of peace, an average of 3,400 thousand men aged 18-30 die in a two-month period. In times of war, an additional 903 people in the same age bracket were reported dead. There are cases where we managed to establish and confirm the year of birth. In fact, the number of dead can be much higher. The death of soldiers is not always reported, not even by regional authorities, while in other cases the deaths are announced by relatives on social media. […]

The army – the only reliable employers in Russian oblasts

The majority of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine lived in small towns. Approximately two thirds of them were from small regional towns and villages. Living standards are much lower there compared to the average for the entire country. For instance, unemployment rates in Buryatia, Tyva, North Ossetia and Dagestan range between 10% to 15%, which is two or three times higher than the national average.

Smaller towns, which are more often than not the origin of Russian soldiers, lack even the most basic facilities. For instances, only 3% of households across villages in Tyva have access to water, sewerage, heating, hot water and gas.

According to the reports of Ukrainians who were kept captive in basements in the Chernihiv oblast, Russians found it hard to understand how Ukrainian villages had asphalt roads, electricity and tiles in courtyards. Russians would steal whatever TV sets, washing machines, notebooks and fridges they could get their hands on from Ukrainians’ homes. In those oblasts that reported the highest number of Russian casualties, not everyone can afford household appliances, while the number of television sets and washing machines in these towns and villages is lower compared to the national average. […]

MEDUZA: Can the Russian army win the fight for Donbas without calling a general mobilization? It doesn’t seem so. At any rate, the situation remains uncertain

Western intelligence “admits” that on May 9 (or on any other day in the foreseeable future), Vladimir Putin will call a general mobilization in Russia. The Kremlin has insistently denied this possibility. No one knows if Western intelligence has any solid evidence about Putin’s intentions, but mobilization has long become a hot topic: to continue its onslaught in Ukraine, Russia obviously needs more troops. In early April, the Russian leadership has narrowed the frontline at least twice in an attempt to encircle and destroy part of the Ukrainian army in Donbas. A month passed without the Russian army being able to surround the Ukrainian force or obtain any notable success. Russian authorities might try to turn the fate of the war around by means of a massive mobilization.

What’s happening on the frontline? Why does Russia need more troops?

The most important fights were fought in April and early May alongside the Serversky Donets River, which represents a major obstacle in the way of military equipment. The number of bridges crossing the river drops by the day, as they are blown up on both sides of the frontline.

First of all, the Ukrainian and Russian armies are occupying territories on “their” sides of the river. More specifically, the Russians on the left bank, closer to the border, while the Ukrainians on the right bank, further inland. The Ukrainian army has three areas of operations on the left bank as well. The Russian army also controls a bridgehead on the right bank, south of Izium (if we consider the older outposts close to the Donetsk and Luhansk cities, where trench warfare has been going on for a long time without any side making headway). The two sides have clustered their main forces around these bridgeheads, continuing to send in reinforcements.

[…]

If Putin calls a general mobilization, will Russian troops be able to take Donbas?

Not necessarily. Ukraine will offset the waves of Russian reinforcements by recruiting more troops of its own and using the weapons delivered by Western countries. As a result, the Russian operation therefore can actually end with the Russians withdrawing from most of the Donbas area.

Besides, Russia and Ukraine might well end up fighting an endless war of attrition, where the sole advantage for the Russian army will be its superior manpower (owed to its larger population and the higher number of conscripts).

The prospect of a mobilization in Russia is also limited. First and foremost, from a political point of view, due to heavy losses sustained at the level of the mobilized population, public support for the regime and the war will diminish. Secondly, the majority of seasoned officers are already in Ukraine, which there won’t be anyone left to train the new recruits back at home. This means that, apart from their clear lack of motivation, “the new forces” will also be undertrained. 

[…]

Mariana Vasilache




Mariana Vasilache

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