Moscow: The Kremlin has dialed back plans for a further offensive in Ukraine this spring after failing to gain much ground and will focus on blunting a new push by Kyiv’s forces expected to begin soon.
Digging in for a long fight, the Kremlin is seeking to sign up as many as 400,000 contract soldiers this year to replenish its ranks, according to people familiar with the planning who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters that aren’t public.
The ambitious recruiting campaign would allow the Kremlin to avoid another forced mobilization of reservists as it ramps up the campaign to re-elect President Vladimir Putin later this year, the people said. Last fall’s call-up shook public confidence and triggered an exodus of as many as a million Russians from the country.
Even with the battlefield and political challenges, Putin has signaled he’s confident Russia will be able to outlast Ukraine’s supporters in the US and Europe, betting that if his forces are able to prevent another breakthrough by Ukrainian troops in the coming months, backing for Kyiv will weaken.
While many in the government and Kremlin elite question whether Russia can ever prevail, hardline security-service officials are committed to pursuing a fight they see as existential and have Putin’s ear, the people said.
Defying efforts by Washington and its allies to isolate him, Putin won strong public backing this month from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who pledged to tighten ties on a visit to Moscow. Privately, Kremlin officials were upbeat about the visit despite the lack of deals announced, saying Xi’s high-profile endorsement was an important sign of support.
China hasn’t publicly committed to supply lethal aid, even as Russia’s forces have struggled to advance in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance. Nearly all of the 300,000 troops mobilized in the fall are now on the battlefield, according to Ukrainian and western officials, but Russia hasn’t managed to take any major towns in recent months.
Ukraine, meanwhile, is planning to launch a major counteroffensive in the coming months with troops fresh from training in Europe and the US and using newly supplied tanks, armored vehicles and other weapons. Kyiv may seek to break through Russian lines and sever the land bridge of occupied territory that now links Crimea to the Russian mainland, according to US officials.
To replenish and expand its ranks, Russia has already begun the recruiting campaign for contract soldiers, who serve for terms up to several years for pay. Regional officials have been given quotas for recruiting and are issuing summonses to potential volunteers to come to draft boards, where they are pitched on signing up, according to people familiar with the efforts. Initially, authorities are targeting veterans and rural residents, they said.
But some officials said the goal of attracting 400,000 contract soldiers this year is likely to be unrealistic. That’s roughly equal to the total number of professional troops Russia had before the invasion was launched on Feb. 24, 2022.