Nerds Talk “Kill Ratios”. War Historians Talk Force Generation

Is Russia a banana republic?

Is Russia a banana republic?

Wagner ad — Why engage with the demos when you can hire mercs like we’re in the 1500s

During the war in Iraq the US Army faced an acute recruitment crisis. For example during the first three months of 2005 the US Army could only enlist 13,000 of the 20,000 (65%) men it needed for active duty to keep its numbers level.

With the US occupying Iraq and Afghanistan the proposition the Army had for recruits had changed dramatically. Risking life and limb in combat during service wasn’t just a possibility, it was now a certainty.

Even more importantly, anyone signing up in 2005 knew that meant extended deployments abroad during which they wouldn’t see their home/girlfriend/favorite bar for 12 months, and their only downtime would be in a base inside a warzone.

Service on a base in the US or even in Germany could be sold as something approaching a 9-5 job, but the certainty of long deployments to a warzone every other year changed that.

If the Army couldn’t hit its recruitment targets then that much more of the burden would have to fall on the troops it already had. This would naturally lower retention levels and then you have a cascade effect on your hands.

If you have fewer guys then their time between deployments has to be shorter, which leads them to want out, which leads you to burden the guys that are left even more, which then leads them to want out next.

The military attacked the recruitment crisis in a number of ways:

  • Recruitment became more aggressive eg with more recruiters in high schools and more military pageantry in stadiums
  • Recruitment standards were lowered. A deferment could be got for virtually anything.
  • Sign-up bonuses became massive and shorter contract times became available.

The Army also frequently stop-lossed personnel. People whose contracts expired and wanted out were kept for up to another year.

The military also relieved the burden on active-duty troops by deploying Army Reserve and National Guard units to Iraq. The use of the National Guard was particularly controversial but it did mean that active-duty troops could get more rest, helping retention.

Even so, for a soldier to see himself deployed three times in five years was nothing out of the usual.

So then, a military with 500,000 active-duty troops in the Army and another 200,000 in the Marines was seriously stressed by having to sustain a deployment of “only” 150,000 troops to Iraq and 25,000 to Afghanistan and had to reach for some radical measures to avoid an unwanted cascade that would see the force depleted.

Moreover, wars that were killing 3 Americans per day (and wounding 20) at their peak were already enough to cause a recruitment crisis (since it is long deployments, even more than casualties, that hurt recruitment and retention).

A man of the people

The size of the Russian deployment in Ukraine is difficult to know. I would guesstimate that, not counting DLPR, Russia has about 150,000 troops in the theater.

That doesn’t look it should strain a military of nearly 1 million, but there’s a catch. The likes of Rocket Troops, Air Force and Navy aren’t in Ukraine, and Putin has made conscripts undeployable.

That leaves just 250,000 officers and contract soldiers of the land combat arms (army, VDV, naval infantry, Spetsnaz) to sustain a deployment of 150,000.

Iraq-Afghanistan deployments requiring 175,000 men strained a combined Army-Marine force of 700,000. But a pool of 250,000 Russian professionals is to indefinitely sustain a deployment of 150,000.

On paper 250,000 are enough to provide an indefinite deployment of 150,000. You just have to keep the majority of them in Ukraine at all times.

But what is that going to do to recruitment and retention?

These 250,000 are currently the unluckiest men in Russia. Who would want to join their ranks?

Who is going to sign or resign a 5-year contract with the Russian military now knowing that spending 4 of these years in high-intensity combat in Ukraine is a distinct possibility? Moreover, knowing that you will be one of only 150,000 to do so.

Before the war becoming a contract soldier was being sold, as not exactly middle-class existence, but as the closest thing to it a working-class guy could get to in short order. The proposition was: sign on the dotted line and you get decent guaranteed money, a measure of societal prestige, and the military helps with the housing for you and your wife. The military wasn’t advertising itself to delinquents and gung-ho teenagers. Its proposition was that becoming a professional soldier was a quickfire way to get the capital to start and lead a stable family life.

Well, the majority of these family men are now sitting outnumbered in a Ukraine trench. Many of them have been there since the start of the war without rest.

There are 15,000 newly signed-up fighters of the 3rd Corps on the way to reinforce them, but that number only just about replaces the 10,000 dead and the 5,000 severely wounded. (And they’re only on the hook for 3-6 months).

Meanwhile, the army is still bleeding a certain number of troops as their contracts expire and they decide not to renew. (Since this is merely a “SMO” they can’t be stop-lossed.) How many new recruits are being signed up to replace these men?

I can’t imagine it’s a high number.

Billboard for 3rd Corps in Vladivostok (unit Tigr)

Just the fact that to raise the 3rd Corps, contracts as short as 3 months had to be offered and payments raised by up to 4 times, tells you that military work is looking extremely unattractive right now.

The army’s proposition has changed from “we’ll pay your mortgage so you can get married” to “we’ll dump you in a Ukraine trench for 7 months and not reinforce you as you gradually grow more outnumbered”, and people are not stupid.

Maintaining an indefinite deployment of 150,000 from a pool of 250,000 men is not sustainable as such extreme demands are going to lead to that pool of 250,000 to shrink. Those in the pool will start to leave at a higher rate, and far fewer will be joining than before.

The relatively pedestrian Iraq War was enough to cause a recruitment crisis for the US Army which had twice the population to draw from. I think the situation for the Russian army can be only many times worse.

To sustain a Russian fighting force of 150,000 in Ukraine the pool of 250,000 feeding it will have to be expanded, or else the ground army will gradually cease to exist. — It will be attrited into nothing through retention and recruitment problems. First slowly then faster and faster.

Russia is already trying to expand the 250K pool.

It is doing so by deploying Rogvardia internal troops, hiring Wagner mercenaries, recruiting in penal colonies, and forming infantry and tank detachments from hastily trained navy sailors and strategic rocket troops under contract.

In the sense that they help spread the burden all of these are welcome. All of these relieve the 250K officers and kontraktniki in the land combat arms somewhat. But all of these are improvisations that even taken together don’t amount to a half-measure.

The only things that can decisively solve the problem that Russia is trying to solve with this desperate array of one-tenth-measures is deploying conscripts

Russia doesn’t have anything like the National Guard or an Army Reserve to call upon. (Its BARS reserve is 80,000-strong and not deployable in an SMO except for volunteers). But it does have the mechanisms of conscription which is even more potent, and which Ukraine is using with wild abandon.

Rather than reach for this existing mechanism for which it already has all the infrastructure, Moscow is engaging in frenzied novel improvisation to forestall using conscript soldiers that it literally already has in uniform (270K, 150K in the land combat arms) for as long as possible.

Aside from being half-measures, there are also other problems with these approaches. For example, using sailors as tank crews is wasteful. Conscripts from tank units are far more capable tank crews who are going to suffer much lower attrition, than sailor kontraktniki.

Also, reliance on the likes of mercenaries and convicts takes some shine off of the war (if you think it has shine to lose).

A different regime might proclaim service in the war an honor, or even a duty. Or the chance to win glory. Kremlin instead treats it as something filthy, something that in an ideal world could be outsourced to mercenaries, Chechens, and convicts.

As a friend of mine said “they are appealing to everyone but normal people.”

Even when they make a pitch to normal people that pitch is focused almost exclusively on monetary benefits.

Rather than speak to the demos, the government’s approach is to try to bribe just enough people so that it doesn’t have to.

Maybe it doesn’t know what to say?

Moscow proclaims its war existential, just, and externally imposed, but the lukewarm way in which it is prosecuting it reveals that it regards it as iffy.

Either that or it regards talking to the people as iffy.

Launching a war, but not asking the demos to sacrifice for it sounds lofty. Provided you can finish what you started.

But if midway you’re going to turn around and seek a bailout from the people then all you have done is increased the sacrifice they must bear beyond what would have been necessary if you had the guts/class/foresight to ask right away.

Having been given 7 months of breathing room Ukraine now has 300,000 to 400,000 decently trained troops. Who is to say that if given another 7 months it won’t find a way to add another 100,000?

Also, first throwing the contract army into the fray and driving it into exhaustion. And only then throwing the conscripts simply allows the opposition to face your men piecemeal.

The longer conscripts are kept out of it, the higher the obstacle they will have to overcome once they are activated, the less help they will have, and the higher the blood price they will pay.

It is no mercy to your demos to allow the opposition a year or so of preparations before you call them in to aid you.

While Russia hasn’t touched the amazing instrument of conscription for its war, Ukraine has no such reservations. People look at a map and conclude that in any war the much larger Russia must be dominant. But in reality, it is not really countries that fight but institutions and systems.

If Ukraine is force-generating with the modern institution of conscription and mobilization — and Russia simultaneously limits itself to the feudal-era bargaining with mercenaries, criminals, and warlike mountain minorities then it’s anyone’s guess which of the two will be dominant in the long term.

The 5D crowd which proceeds from the axiom that Kremlin always makes the optimal decision and that there is a method to every Kremlin madness will say that Russia doesn’t need to force-generate with conscription because it is achieving incredible kill ratios that are grounding the Ukrainian army into dust.

This is flawed. Even if you are achieving incredible feats with your artillery there is no reason not to multiply its effectiveness by combining it with the firepower and maneuver of infantry and tanks.

Indeed, if Russia has all the infantry it needs then why are convicts, sailors, policemen, and Donetsk 40-somethings and 50-somethings being thrown into the mix?

Also in reality the Ukrainian body counts from artillery are substantially lower than in 5D daydreams.

What the Russians do is they concentrate vast portions of their artillery fire against just a few kilometers of the enemy front line where they are hoping to make gains. This means that just a few battalions on the other side are bombarded with several thousand shells per day.

These few unlucky units suffer grievously over the course of days and weeks, and frequently end up retreating into the rear without an order and making a video about their horrible ordeal.

But where the 5D crowd makes the mistake is to assume that this is replicated all along the front. This is not true. The Soviets/Russians are big on concentrating their artillery, and for every kilometer of the front that is getting the Verdun treatment, there are hundreds of kilometers where the birds are chirping and barely any shells get fired.

The dimension of this war where you are looking at the greatest disparity between sides isn’t casualty counts but the means of force generation. Moscow can only dangle money and hope there are takers, while Kiev can take a pencil and write a summons for as many conscripts as it thinks it can arm and feed.

What I would like to see is less discussion of abstractions like “Russia” and “Ukraine” and more discussion about the institutions actually at war here, namely the fighting part of the two militaries.

It’s all good to say that Russia “can’t lose to Ukraine.” But Russia and Ukraine aren’t really fighting. Portions of their militaries are.

So how about this:

In the one corner you have a 350,000-strong conscript army backed by a state that is using the instruments of conscription and mobilization. And in the other corner you have a 250,000 all-volunteer force (augmented by 50,000 local proxies) backed by a state which is acting as if conscription and mobilization have yet to be invented by it.

Presented this way, is it at all obvious that the latter force is going to defeat the former?

Which one would you rather be in charge of?

In the short term, to me this looks like a stalemate while in the long run Russia better go ahead and invent conscription or risk more unwanted surprises.

  1. Abraham Lincoln says

    Hello pro Zio Jewish empire, so losing over 2 thirds of the attacking Ukrainian forces is a victory??

    We we will see in the next few days won’t we.

    At least with this opportunity of Ukraine wasting all its reserves in this failed counter offensive, it should push Russia to destroy the Ukrainian leadership and command and control infrastructure and the transportation infrastructure of Western Ukraine leaving all of the east and south of Ukraine wide open to Russian invasion with few Ukrainian defenders left, with little or no equipment left with which to defend.

    1. TZVI says

      Abraham Lincoln canceled Grants order to kick out all Jews ( not just cotton salesmen) from Newly taken Southern Territories like Tennessee, Mississippi, as well as the non rebelling Kentucky. I think you need a new name if you hate the children of Israel so much, try Haman, Grant, or Schicklgruber.

      Here is a joke you might like:

      Q: How do we know Lincoln Was Jewish?

      A: He was shot in the Temple.

  2. Kevin Barsi says

    yeah no comment on the power stations no comment on the attacks on the damns. just the negatives buck up Marko you ain’t got no dog in this fight. was Marko part of the shadyness from Russia insider?

    1. TZVI says

      No idea why this was not mentioned, from the outside they seem like serious developments, time will tell.

  3. Agarwal says

    Even the power station strikes are half-assed. A few strikes one day, no more for two days, then a few more. Blow up a dam to create a pocket, and then artillery it because you have nowhere near enough men to actually run an offensive. I was pro-Putin right up to Kharkiv (the Ukrainians won it and can so call it whatever they want), but now I think Marko is an FSB agent territory as he says, because he is still to optimistic about the Russian effort. Heck, Jihadi Julian is an FSB agent, he didn’t see Kharkiv coming and was saying that a 5 million man army was the only chance Ukraine had.

    The way things stand, Ukraine (and its US advisors who seem a lot more competent than their Russian counterparts), figured out that Ukraine has the skill to mount offensives and that the Russian front is extremely undermanned. American real-time satellite intel absolutely blows away Russian intel, Ukraine will have no trouble finding weak spots in the line and now has confidence to attack them. The only thing saving Russia so far is a Ukrainian desire for taking emotional prizes like Kherson or Mariupol, where Russian defense is solid (probably). If Ukraine wakes up and just attacks where Russia is weak, Russia will absolutely lose the war and Ukraine might as well continue on to Belgorod.

    1. Blackledge says

      Long time lurker but I have to say, I have always enjoyed your posts, Agarwal. Hope to see more of your views posted here, as you have taught me a great deal.

    2. TZVI says

      Are the thermal plants in Ukraine all working now??? ( Serious Question)

  4. Blackledge says


    Dmitry Orlov assured his readers some months back that Russian recruiting stations can’t process all of the volunteers lining up owing to the huge numbers of people eager to serve. Of course, this is the same writer who once penned “people were living it up in the Soviet Union.” Do you buy that? because I don’t. And neither do I buy the lie of long queues of eager recruits wanting to sign up. In fact, there was a recent video made, I think it was in Moscow, asking people on the street how they felt about the special operation-not-a-war. “Uurah! We fight for victory!” was the general sentiment; when asked if they would provide their name and address for a follow-up with a military recruiter, the “patriots” quickly turned and walked away.

    Professional propagandists and inveterate liars like the Faker and Pepe Escobar (as well as the legion of low-T Beta-cucks following their every word,) would have the world believe that defeat is victory, that weakness is strength, that malfeasance is leadership, and that incompetence is brilliance – the verifiable facts notwithstanding. It’s a sad commentary on the declining IQs of the English-speaking world that these lying imbeciles even have an audience, much less are able to make a living spinning up BS as they do.

    Keep telling the truth, Marko. The consequences be damned – keep telling the truth, and may God bless you for it.

    1. Estragon says


      Orlov is a good example of a person who begins with an interesting alternative perspective, and then evolves into a total crackpot. Even before the SMO, he was retailing all sorts of crazy ideas (the moon landing was a hoax; Fukushima accident was caused by the US Navy; Chernobyl was sabotaged by the CIA; etc).

      “defeat is victory, that weakness is strength, that malfeasance is leadership, and that incompetence is brilliance” – good observation. These guys are literally incapable of accepting and processing bad news for what it is. Putin could drop a nuke on Moscow, and they’d spin it as part of some clever plan (“this will make the Ukrainians think they’re winning, and they’ll fall into a trap!”).

      Meanwhile, the Russian Army has a draft every year. Draft dodging has been rampant in Russia for many years. I think we could get a good idea of the real enthusiasm for the SMO by checking how well this year’s draft goes. Does anyone know? After all, if this is really an existential struggle against Nazism, young Russians should be rarin’ to go kick some butt in Ukie-land.

  5. Agarwal says

    I would point out one last cope or consolation prize for the Russians. Apparently the Ukrainian Kharkiv offensive was carried out with US advisors, and the stuff around Kherson with UK advisors. Kharkiv went splendidly. Kherson was a joke, an aborted ZNPP commando attack, feeding Ukrainian troops into narrow breakthroughs with Russian artillery and air waiting to destroy them.

    This suggests to me that perhaps there is only one first class military in the world, the American one, and everyone else, whether Russia or the UK or probably China, is a joke. u nas ni khuzhe

    1. ATBOTL says

      The Kherson offensive took important ground in several areas and now Russia’s posistion west of the river is precarious. One good push and it could go. It’s wrong to say that the Kherson offensive failed.

  6. TZVI says

    Yet in 2007 about 3.5 years into the 2nd war in Iraq ( Gulf war II, aka “Kick their Azz and steal their Gas” II) the USA military was able to “surge” and put up to 30,000 MORE troops on the ground.

    In terms of recruits to volunteer for a meat grinder, SANCTIONS and harsh economic realities may provide for more people with nothing to do, and no better way to live than going into a war zone indefinitely. This is assuming it will stay an “all volunteer” force…not an assumption I would be willing to make.

  7. The Inimitable NEET says

    It’s disingenuous to use retention levels during the Iraq War as a baseline for estimating how well or badly Russian levels will go. The author needed to deliberately ignore the context of the former to pretend it represented some universal metric.

    There were 3 main reasons why the U.S. army struggled to attain its recruitment objectives back then:

    – In the minds of most soldiers, the war had already ended by March 2003. The army had campaigned on the idea Saddam Hussein was leading a murderous, illegitimate regime that brandished weapons of mass destruction. The toppling of Baghdad in early April signaled victory in their minds and Saddam’s capture in December was the cherry on top. They didn’t sign up to deal with the sectarian violence and insurgency that followed in 2004, nor the idea that military forces had to stay there until Iraq fashioned a democratic government. After all, technically it was a coalition effort.
    – The moral impetus of the war had lost a fair bit of legitimacy between the Abu Ghraid controversy, the revelation there were no WMDs in Iraq, and the constant expansion of military objectives after the invasion. On an anecdotal note, the main complaint I heard from returning soldiers was that they never had a clear grasp why they were there and how they were supposed to accomplish U.S. goals.
    – Iraq in relation to Americans is fundamentally different than Ukraine in relation to Russia. To the average American soldier Iraq is a nation halfway around the world where almost no one speaks your native language, large sections of the population fear, despise, or hate you, most of the amenities of modern life are absent except for the large untouched cities, intended violence towards you feels sporadic and random, and you have no clearcut blueprint or rationale from your government why you’re obliged to stay. Ukraine is a neighboring country with a large contingent of Russian-speaking/Russian-identifying people who claim they were being oppressed by government policy and armed forces. The Russian population in general is going to be personally invested in the outcome. Hence the main criticism of Putin within Russia being “Why are you being so soft? Just kill them already.”

  8. Geraldo says

    qouting what America would or wouldnt do is a bad start to an article, a militray that hasnt fought a peer war for 80 years and casts troops into the abyss like theyve just done with Ukrainians in the ‘Kherson counter offensive’ really are cluelss. Yes that was planned for months by Milley and friends and what a disaster it has been. 35K brand spanking new, NATO equipped and trained troops got chewed up in 4 days, 20K lost in Kerson and another 8 to 10K in Kharkiv as they bravely ‘invaded’ an area with absolutely zero Russian troops stationed there. You can’t fight a war without men. The Russians have a million back in Russia (but theyre all saved for NATO dotards and Milleys exceptional planning) Bottom line is Ukies are losing front to back, the entire 250K man army that they started this war with has gone (apart from the officer core who keep getting poulled out of the front line in an attempt to try and keep some coherence for all the new recruits coming into the field – and getting slaughtered) Russia just decimated 35K troops in 5 days and left the field to what is a dead end where Ukrainian military bring terror once more to Ukrainians domesticly (although we see that the vast majority of civilians fled to Russia, they didnt stay and await with open arms Zelenskys open hearted warriosr, nope, the Nazi fiends showed up to kill and harrass anyone left immediately classing them as Russian collaborators – classy act bound to encourage loyalty to the poisn cokaine dwarf hiding in his bunker) I dont buy any of it. Ukies got nothing unless the Russians let them have it (by intention or mistake!) Russia takes its time, part of this ‘SMO’ is military and part political – as in any war – and winter is where the political – in Europe – takes center stage. The west if it wasnt just as bad should turn the guns on this vile junta in Kiev instead of encouraging its fantastic delusions. Empire of Lies, Empire of failure.

    1. ATBOTL says

      “…35K brand spanking new, NATO equipped and trained troops got chewed up in 4 days, 20K lost in Kerson and another 8 to 10K in Kharkiv as they bravely ‘invaded’ an area with absolutely zero Russian troops stationed there.”

      Pathetic copes and lame lies.

  9. ATBOTL says

    An “elite” mercenary group that you join by calling a phone number on crappy billboard. What a joke. Putin is waging a neoliberal, outsourced war.

  10. SteveK9 says

    This article is interesting. NATO vs. Russia: dragon vs. hydra by Roman Skomorokhov

    One opinion is that Russia can make up for the manpower deficit, by using a lot more missiles on a lot more targets (I know it has been said here before):

    – bridges across the Dnieper must be destroyed;
    – traction substations at junction railway stations, thermal power plants in cities should be destroyed;
    – decision-making centers must be destroyed.

    On the political side, again in agreement with this website:

    ‘Our political losses are simply enormous. They came, stood and fled – this is not something that wins the brains and souls of Ukrainians. The leadership of the army does not understand this, but this is generally a separate conversation. It turns out that we did not just deceive us with our departure. Yes, retreating in 1941, our ancestors promised to return and they were believed. Like today, it’s hard for me to say.

    I would like to return to these lands, I would like to return these people to Russia. But there are many difficulties in terms of faith and trust. How much will the Russians be trusted in this regard and believe in Russia. You can come back to empty lands. You can come to the lands where our people will live. And there may be an option when we really become occupiers in the eyes of the people who remain on their land, who will simply take revenge. In Ukraine, this is quite a normal option.

    But in any case, the situation will have to be broken and changed. Not for the sake of Ukrainians, who trust Russia. For the sake of their own, to whom war may come tomorrow.’

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