Russia’s soldiers in the Ukraine war: poor, with criminal records and getting older

Who is fighting for Russia in Ukraine? A lot of the data is incomplete – but some tendencies can be identified. Anyone who wants to see where the war of aggression ends for many Russians in Ukraine will get a good impression in the town of Bakinskaja. The small village, about an hour’s drive south of the Russian city of Krasnodar, would not really attract anyone’s attention in normal times. But since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression, the place has had a new function. Fresh graves are lined up here. This is shown by research by various media, including the Reuters news agency and “Spiegel”. The graves are all decorated with yellow, red and black floral arrangements – the colors of the Wagner mercenary group, which invaded Ukraine together with the Russian army. Almost macabre: The graves are not far from Molkino, where Wagner trained his troops for the war until a few weeks ago. For many of the dead, the war ends roughly where it began. Half of the army disabled after six months? Bakinskaya is thus a symbol of what Russia has been experiencing since February 24, 2022 and at the same time only a spotlight on the high ones casualties suffered by the country in the war. Official figures can hardly be heard from the Kremlin – and if they do, then the information is probably far from reality: 5,937 people have been killed so far, said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in September 2022. The Ukrainian online newspaper “Ukrajinska Pravda” goes in its current statistics meanwhile assumes the loss of almost 255,000 Russian soldiers. But what else is known about the fighters in Putin’s army? At the beginning of the invasion, speaking to the independent Russian news outlet iStories, Russian military expert Pavel Luzin estimated the strength of the Russian army as follows: The military had a maximum of 280,000 ground troops, or 45,000 men in the Air Force and 35,000 soldiers in the Navy. Altogether that would be 360,000 soldiers. However, Luzin qualified that only about half of them are ready for use. He gave numbers between 134,000 and 168,000. In August 2022, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said that around 80,000 Russian soldiers were unable to fight – i.e. injured, killed or deserted. Based on Luzin’s estimates, the army would have lost around half of its soldiers in the first six months of the war. Recruitment from poor regions In September, the Kremlin announced a mobilization: According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, around 300,000 new soldiers should officially be recruited, already At the end of October Moscow said the mobilization was over. The independent Russian media portal “Meduza”, on the other hand, wrote that they were looking for up to 1.2 million men. A joint research by “iStories” and the independent Russian investigative platform “Conflict Intelligence Team” gives a rough insight into the regions from which many of the new Recruits came from: Based on public data, one could assume that a large proportion come from regions where the monthly income is below the Russian average. The largest proportion therefore comes from the Siberian Krasnoyarsk region, followed by Sevastopol in Crimea, Buryatia, Dagestan or Kalmykia. The large conurbations of Moscow and St. Petersburg, on the other hand, played only a minor role. However, the data from the survey is patchy. In many regions of Russia, no public data or information from officials on the mobilization could be found. However, anonymous Russian government sources told the Meduza portal that they are primarily looking for soldiers in rural areas where there is little contact with free media or opposition forces and where support for the war is high. However, they also want to find a small part of the soldiers in Moscow (16,000) and St. Petersburg (3,200).Prisons as a new source for soldiersWhat is now a fact: As the war progressed, the composition of the Russian army also changed. The British BBC reported that the average early Russian soldier died at the age of 21 and had a low rank, but had been professionally trained. Meanwhile, according to the BBC, the average Russian soldier dies at the age of 34 and became with high probability recruited in a prison. It was only in July that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved an increase in the age of reservists by five years. Ex-convicts were initially mainly present in the private Wagner mercenary army: after the Russian invasion began, its boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was given the opportunity to recruit new ones directly from Russian prison camps recruit soldiers. They were promised a pardon if they survived six months in the Ukraine. Prigozhin spoke of giving Wagner’s men a second chance. “I’ll get you out alive, but I won’t bring everyone back alive,” he is said to have told the convicts in a Telegram video. “Most experienced army in the world today”According to a report by the Reuters news agency, according to official statistics the number of people incarcerated in Russian penal colonies fell by 8 percent between last August and November – the biggest drop in more than a decade. According to the report, the US secret service assumes that Wagner was able to recruit around 40,000 convicts for his fight against Ukraine in this way – Troops in Ukraine not much in common anymore. The chief of the mercenaries nevertheless claimed that it was “probably the most experienced army in the world today.” At the end of January, Reuters identified 39 of those who are now buried in Bakinskaya, including convicted murderers, drug dealers and people who struggled with financial or alcohol problems during their lifetime.