Russia's military forces are 15% bigger than they were at start of war, says US intelligence

Russia's military forces are 15% bigger than they were at start of war, says US intelligence
Russia is reportedly taking heavy casualties in the Ukraine war, but US intelligence suggests the force has grown by 15% since the invasion thanks to a successful voluntary recruitment drive. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews April 12, 2024

Russia is reconstituting its army far faster than initial estimates suggested, US Army General Christopher Cavoli, Nato's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said in a statement on April 10.

Russia’s Armed Forces have taken heavy casualties but a campaign to recruit volunteers in Russia is going very well and more than making up Moscow’s battlefield losses, according to US intelligence. Cavoli estimates that Russia’s army has grown from around 1mn at the start of the war, with some 300,000 men serving on the front line at the start of the invasion of Ukraine just over two years ago.

The top American military commander in Europe told the House Armed Services Committee in a hearing on April 10 that the Russian army "is actually larger by 15%" than it was when it invaded Ukraine back on February 24, 2022.

"Over the past year, Russia increased its front-line troop strength from 360,000 to 470,000," Cavoli continued, adding that the bolstered numbers stemmed from Russia raising its conscription age from 27 to 30.

The increase, Cavoli said, meant that Russia was able to enlarge "the pool of available military conscripts by 2mn for years to come."

"In sum, Russia is on track to command the largest military on the continent," Cavoli said. He also added that regardless of the outcome of the war in Ukraine, "Russia will be larger, more lethal and angrier with the West than when it invaded."

Ukraine’s position in the conflict has significantly weakened since the start of this year, when the US ran out of money for Ukraine and halted military supplies. As bne IntelliNews reported, Ukraine is now in an ammo crisis as it starts to run out of long-range missile and ammunition for its air defences.

Russia launched a massive barrage of missiles against Ukraine in January, hoping to deplete its arsenal of missiles. It stepped that up with another even bigger barrage at the end of March that is successfully targeting Ukraine’s crucial power infrastructure. And the tactic seems to be working, as Kyiv is increasingly unable to protect these facilities.

In the first days of the March barrage, Russia hit and largely destroyed Ukraine’s biggest hydropower station, the Zaporizhzhia's Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP). In general, Ukraine’s biggest power company DTEK says that 80% of its generating capacity is now damaged or destroyed. And a strike on April 11 completely destroyed the main power plant supplying Kyiv with energy, the Trypilska coal-powered thermal power plant (TPP) near the capital.

With Ukraine going into spring, the destruction of Trypilska and the Dnipro HPP is not seen as catastrophic, but as both facilities are unlikely to be repaired before the winter their absence will become “a major headache” this autumn, officials from Trypilska said in comments posted on social media.

“The situation is getting more dangerous for Ukraine and the world each day. If Russia isn't stopped, it won't stop,” Anton Gerashchenko, advisor to Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs and founder of the Institute of the Future, said in a tweet.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said that he would like to increase Russia’s military strength to 1.5mn this year, although analysts doubt that the Kremlin will manage to recruit half a million more men without a general mobilisation.

In the first year of the war after the initial offensive failed to take Kyiv and Russia was forced to retreat in the north, Russian President Vladimir Putin called a partial mobilisation that started in September 2022 that recruited an additional 300,000 men, largely from Russia’s poorest and remotest regions as a study looking at regional bank deposits showed.

However, Putin remains very reluctant to call a general mobilisation that would call up regular middle-class Russians living in the European part of the country and the big cities, as he is afraid of a political backlash against the war. Instead, the Kremlin has organised a very effective recruitment drive to bolster the army’s numbers that is adding an estimated 30,000 new troops every month.

The drive has been made easier by the support for the war from the general public. As bne IntelliNews reported, patriotism is at an all-time high, according to a recent poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), as the public believe Russia is under attack from Nato thanks to Russian propaganda.

Conversely, Ukraine is suffering from an escalating manpower shortage as it has also been suffering heavy casualties, although the exact number of those killed or wounded remains a state secret. US estimates put the number at north of 150,000, but that could be an underestimate.

The government presented a controversial bill to the Rada on April 11 calling for the mobilisation of another 450,000-500,000, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy suffers from the same political constraints as Putin and conscription remains a very sensitive subject.