Putin’s Desperate Bid for More Troops in Ukraine Is Failing Miserably

(Photo by Jewel SAMAD/AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have been faltering in their invasion of Ukraine due to poor planning, logistics and morale issues, according to US intelligence officials. So Putin cronies have stepped in, and are now working to help offset his military’s deficiencies by making a mad dash to plus up recruitment to spur on the invasion.

But so far, those efforts have amounted to nil, a senior US defense official said Friday.

Moscow’s flurry of efforts to muster up more forces have run the gamut from overt announcements to officials reluctantly admitting they need more forces. But the recruitment efforts aren’t reflecting the announcements, the senior official said.

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In the latest case of talking points that don’t mesh with reality, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Friday Russia is recruiting 16,000 people from the Middle East to help fight in Ukraine, according to TASS. Russia has been working to recruit fighters from Syriatoo, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Pentagon hasn’t necessarily seen this kind of recruitment take place yet, the senior defense official said on a call with reporters Friday.

“We are aware of recruiting efforts… in Syria,” the senior official said. “We haven’t seen indications that their recruiting efforts have borne fruit and resulted in the actual arrival of foreign fighters from that part of the world.”

“We don’t know if 16,000 is really a target or just a talking point,” the official added.

The Kremlin has also recently admitted that it has started bringing in scripts to its forces—despite promises from Putin that he would not be leaning on conscripts.

And yet, that hasn’t materialized either, according to the senior defense official.

“Nothing to speak to in terms of Russian reinforcements of themselves,” the official said. “We haven’t seen any indications, at least not tangible indications, that they are trying to plus up their manpower from elsewhere.” The official added the caveat that could change in the coming days.

Putin’s planning in general hasn’t been in tip top shape, intelligence officials told lawmakers in briefings on Capitol Hill this week. Russia has suffered between 2,000 and 4,000 consequences in just a matter of weeks, according to analysis from the US Defense Intelligence Agency shared with members of Congress. And for approximately a week now, a column of Russian forces has been stalling outside Kyiv, and have only made about five kilometers of progress in recent days, the senior defense official said.

Russia has been surprised at the amount of resistance from Ukrainians they’ve encountered so far, the Director of National Intelligence told lawmakers in testimony.

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“They’re facing significantly more resistance from the Ukrainians than they expected and encountering serious military shortcomings,” DNI Avril Haines said Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee, adding that Russia has continued to have “morale issues,” “internal military challenges,” and “considerable logistical issues.”

“This is not something the Russians have experience at,” a senior defense official said. “What you’re seeing is poor planning running up against actual execution.”

Members of Congress are starting to raise an alarm that might be looking to rely on Russian-backed mercenaries from the so-called Wagner group in Ukraine as well. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Mike Braun (R-IN) last Thursday called on the Biden Administration to investigate and imposes sanctions on Wagner group, a private Russian contractor which has been working as a proxy fighting group for the Russian government around the globe in recent years.

The mercenary group has been fueling conflict from Syria to Libya to the Central African Republic, where Wagner group mercenaries have carried out extrajudicial killings, according to a State Department analysis.

“We owe it to our allies participate to punish private actors to the greatest extent possible that directly in Russia’s warmongering in Ukraine and we urge you to take all necessary measures to hold them accountable,” the group of senators said in a letter they sent to the Departments of Defense, State, and Treasury.

It wouldn’t be Ukraine’s first rodeo with Wagner: Mercenaries linked with Wagner were fighting in 2014 in eastern Ukraine, too. Already Ukrainian intelligence has accused Wagner mercenaries of running ops in Ukraine this year. As of early this month, Ukrainian officials said Ukrainian President Zelensky has survived three assassination attempts—with Wagner fingerprints all over.

The so-called “private army” of Russian President Vladimir Putin is made up of a web of different entities that tie back to Putin’s right-hand man for Russian propaganda, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, or “Putin’s chef,” according to the Biden Administration. And although Russia’s government has denied connections with Wagner, the group is widely thought to be linked with Russia’s Defense Ministry and Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), as one of its founders, Dmitry Utkin, is a former GRU officer.

In late February, Wagner group appeared to be gunning for a surge in hiring in an attempt to bring in more mercenaries to help Russian forces invader Ukraine, Vera Mironova, a Russian-American academic and visiting Research Fellow at Harvard University, told The Daily Beast .

The mad dash to recruit for Wagner is just the latest sign Russia is reaching a point of desperation, lacking the manpower it needs to run its invasion in Ukraine, Mironova said.

“That’s how in a predicament their resources are,” Mironova, who is on the ground in Kyiv, told The Daily Beast. “It means that Russia is running out of troops to fight. They are basically getting everybody they can get possibly.”

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The Daily Beast could not independently verify the origins of the recruitment plea.

Wagner group’s reported call for more personnel, though, might not just be about making up for planning problems or shortcomings on the battlefield. Researchers have long said that Wagner provides Moscow both fighting power and plausible deniability at once.

The fact that posts are circulating about efforts to recruit additional fighters for Wagner Group may also be a Russian information operations tactic to instill fear and anxiety in Ukraine as Russia continues to try to take more ground, Mironova said.

“In terms of thinking about psychological operations… that’s also a benefit for Russia” in causing some fear, Mironova told The Daily Beast.

The news that Russia might be looking for more manpower in Ukraine coincides with reports that Belarus may be staging an attack on Ukraine in the coming hours.

In an attempt to try bolstering Ukraine’s forces, the Biden Administration should be sending Ukraine an additional shipment of military aid from previously approved packages, the senior defense official said. And more is on the way—lawmakers approved nearly $14 billion in aid for Ukraine this week.

The last few weeks in Ukraine have been incredibly difficult as Russia has attacked cities around the country and millions of Ukrainians and residents have fled, hoping their escape routes won’t be the next targets of Russian forces.

But even so, Friday evening—as warnings about a possible Belarusian attack spread and as Russian forces regroup northwest of Kyiv after many setbacks—the tensions seem to be mounting in Kyiv, Mironova told the Daily Beast.

“Tonight is very sensitive [because of] the threats from Belarus and the regrouping of the Russian army.”

While some of the Russian forces’ movement is stalling—their vehicles are going off into the tree line off the road to try to disguise their location, according to the Pentagon—some of Putin’s rear elements of the column outside of Kyiv have advanced in recent hours, the senior defense official said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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