Sept 3 2023
Putin's Russia scrambles to draft in mercenaries from Armenia and Kazakhstan to plug gaps in troop numbers fighting in Ukraine
Story by James Callery
MoD said Russia has been appealing to citizen of neighbouring countries with recruitment adverts since June
Vladimir Putin is scrambling to draft mercenaries from Armenia and Kazakhstan to plug the gaps in troop numbers fighting in Ukraine.
Moscow has suffered heavy troop losses since the war in Ukraine began 18 months ago and the total number of Russian and Ukrainian troops killed or wounded is nearing 500,000, US officials said.
Russia has been appealing to citizen of neighbouring countries with recruitment adverts since June, the Ministry of Defence said in its latest Defence Intelligence update.
The MoD said that online adverts have been observed in Armenia and Kazakhstan offering 495,000 roubles (£4,079) in initial payments and salaries from 190,000 roubles (£1,566).
There have been recruitment efforts in Kazakhstan's northern Qostanai region, appealing to the ethnic Russian population and since at least May, Russia has approached central Asian migrants to fight in Ukraine with promises of fast-track citizenship and salaries of up to £3,305, the update added.
The MoD said Uzbek migrant builders in Mariupol have reportedly had their passports confiscated upon arrival and been coerced to join the Russian military and noted that there are at least six million migrants from Central Asia in Russia, which the Kremlin probably see as potential recruits.
The MoD added: 'Russia likely wishes to avoid further unpopular domestic mobilisation measures in the run up to the 2024 Presidential elections.
'Exploiting foreign nationals allows the Kremlin to acquire additional personnel for its war effort in the face of mounting casualties.'
Some 280,000 people have signed up so far this year for professional service with Russia's military, the deputy chair of the Russian Security Council, former President Dmitry Medvedev, said today.
Visiting Russia's Far East, Medvedev said he was meeting local officials to work on efforts to beef up the armed forces.
'According to the Ministry of Defence, since January 1, about 280,000 people have been accepted into the ranks of the Armed Forces on a contract basis,' including reservists, state news agency TASS quoted Medvedev as saying.
Last year, Russia announced a plan to expand its combat personnel more than 30 per cent to 1.5 million.
Some Russian lawmakers suggested Russia needs a professional army seven million strong to ensure the country's security – a move that would require a huge budget allowance.
Putin ordered a 'partial mobilisation' of 300,000 reservists in September 2022, prompting hundreds of thousands of others to flee Russia to avoid being sent to fight. Putin has said there is no need for any further mobilisation.
In July, Russia's lower house of parliament voted to raise the maximum age at which men can be conscripted to 30 years from 27, increasing the number of young men liable for a year of compulsory military service at any one time.
The new legislation, which comes into effect on January 1, means men will be required to carry out a year of military service, or equivalent training during higher education, between the ages of 18 and 30, rather than 18 and 27 as now.
The law also bans men from leaving Russia from the day they are summoned to a conscription office.
In April, legislation was passed allowing conscription summonses to be served online instead of in person.
Compulsory military service has long been a sensitive issue in Russia, where many men go to great lengths to avoid being handed conscription papers during the twice-yearly call-up periods.
Conscripts cannot legally be deployed to fight outside Russia and were in theory exempted from a limited mobilisation last autumn, although some conscripts were sent to the front in error.
State media reported in July that Russia will keep compulsory military service for 18-year-olds, permanently increasing the number of young men liable to conscription, after lawmakers dropped a proposal not to start before the age of 21.
In June, the lower house of Russia's parliament said it had voted to give its initial backing to legislation that will allow the Defence Ministry to sign contracts with suspected or convicted criminals to fight in Ukraine.
Under the proposed changes, a contract could be concluded with someone being investigated for committing a crime, who is having their case heard in court or after they have been convicted but before the verdict takes legal effect, according to the database of the State Duma, the lower house.
Since the spring, the Russian army has led a huge publicity campaign to recruit volunteers, with mass advertisements online and in Russian streets.
It has also sought to attract future soldiers by promising higher salaries.
The Russian military launched a video campaign to lure more professional soldiers to fight in Ukraine in April, which challenged those interested to show they are 'a real man' and swap what it cast as hum-drum civilian life for the battlefield.
The ad, set to stirring music, followed a report from British military intelligence and Russian media reports that suggested Moscow was seeking to recruit up to 400,000 professional soldiers – on a volunteer basis – to bolster its forces in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia launched a three-and-a-half hour drone attack on the southern parts of the Odesa region early on Sunday, hitting a Danube River port infrastructure and injuring at least two people, Kyiv said.
Ukraine's air defence systems shot down 22 of the 25 Iranian-made Shahed drones that Russia launched on Odesa in the early hours of Sunday, Ukraine's Air Force said on the Telegram messaging app.
Ukraine's South Military Command said on social media that at least two civilians were injured in the attack on what it said was the 'civil infrastructure of the Danube'.
There were no immediate details on which port facility was hit. The military said a fire that resulted from the attack at the facility was quickly extinguished.
Some Ukrainian media reported blasts in the Reni port, one of the two major ports on the Danube that Ukraine operates.
The Russian army said today that it had hit the port of Reni with overnight drone strikes.
'Today at night, the Russian army carried out a group drone strike on fuel storage facilities used to supply military equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the port of Reni, in the Odesa region,' the army said. 'All designated targets were hit.'
Following the collapse in July of a United Nations-brokered deal allowing safe shipments from the Black Sea, Russia has ramped up attacks on Ukraine's southern Odesa and Mykolaiv regions, home to ports and infrastructure that are vital for the shipment of grain.
The Danube has become Ukraine's main route for exporting grain since the collapse of the deal.
Last month, the first civilian cargo ship sailing through the Black Sea from Ukraine arrived in Istanbul in defiance of the Russian blockade.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that two more vessels had passed through the country's 'temporary Black Sea grain corridor'.
On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with Putin, hoping to persuade the Russian leader to rejoin the Black Sea grain deal.
The meeting in Sochi on Russia's southern coast comes after weeks of speculation about when and where the two leaders might meet.
Erdogan previously said that Putin would travel to Turkey in August.
The Kremlin refused to renew the grain agreement six weeks ago.
The deal – brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July 2022 – had allowed nearly 33 million metric tons (36 million tons) of grain and other commodities to leave three Ukrainian ports safely despite Russia's war.
However, Russia pulled out after claiming that a parallel deal promising to remove obstacles to Russian exports of food and fertiliser hadn't been honoured.
Moscow complained that restrictions on shipping and insurance hampered its agricultural trade, even though it has shipped record amounts of wheat since last year.
Zelensky and his French counterpart today discussed the 'functioning' of a sea corridor set up by Kyiv for safe navigation of ships after Moscow exited the grain deal.
They also spoke about enhancing the security of the Odesa region, Zelensky said on social media after the phone call.