Russia’s 3rd Corps. Is Help on the Way?
The devil is in the details
Source: Anti-Empire Substack
The cavalry is on the way! That is what some believe. After all, Russia is committing an entire new corps to the fight!And this is true. An entire new corps (the 3rd) has been raised, and is already on the way to Ukraine.
But what is a corps? Or more specifically what is the 3rd Corps, and how strong is it?
The 3rd corps is synonymous with the new volunteer battalions raised by the regions. The center has directed the regions to look up to Kadyrov’s Chechnya and use their administrative and financial resources to help secure more men for the Russian war effort. To launch their own locally-funded and locally-organized recruitment drives to supplant that of the federal defense ministry.
These men recruited by the regional recruitment campaigns are passed on to the military for training, but they serve in newly-formed units exclusively with other men from their region.
The regions are also paying for their bonuses so that these volunteers earn about triple or quadruple what a Russian contract soldier would be earning in peacetime. The exact sum and bonus system vary from region to region. Some regions also provide them with additional equipment like quadcopters, comms, and thermals.
Russian battalions normally only have a number, but these new locally-raised battalions all have names. Often they bear the name of their region, or of a local hero or placename. Thus collectively they are also referred to as “named units”.
Russia’s most mainstream paper, the Kommersant, reported last month that 40 such battalions and companies have already been formed. By now the number could be even higher.
A WW2 infantry battalion means something like 800 men, so are 50,000 new Russian volunteer reinforcements on the way?
Some of these units are actually mere companies. Others are specialist battalions, and others are understrength.
Kommersant has strength numbers for some of these units. Thus we learn that Perm region raised an infantry company of 90 men and a tank battalion of 160. Amur is expecting to raise an infantry battalion of 400-500 men. Tyumen is forming an engineer battalion, a sniper company, and an artillery battalion. Bashkira is preparing two infantry battalions with the combined strength of 800 men. Chelyabinsk has raised one battalion of 261 men and another composed of 253 men. Ulyanovsk is expecting to contribute two battalions of 200 men each.
So then the largest unit the Kommersant is aware of is a battalion of 400-500 men, and the smallest is a company of 90. Many are specialist battalions with only 200-270 men each.
So then what would be the combined strength of forty or fifty such units gathered in a newly-formed corps?
20,000? 15,000? 10,000?
3rd corps is welcome relief and will have some impact, but 15,000 additional men is not game-changing.
Moreover, there are two additional points to consider.
The first is that regional recruitment advertising is clear that contracts as brief as 3 months are available to sign. (1 month of training and 3 months in Ukraine.) This raises the question for how long will this manpower be available to the Russian military? Would it be reasonable to expect that most men of the 3rd Corps have not signed up for longer than 3-6 months?
Moreover, is this really additional manpower? It’s a newly-formed Corps but regional recruitment drives are not only supplementing MoD’s recruitment, they are also naturally competing with it.
Russia has just under 400,000 contract soldiers. No more than 200,000 of that number in the various land combat arms. The average length of service is relatively brief, under 10 years. (Most stay for 2 contracts but not 3.) Each year then MoD must recruit over 20,000 new contract soldiers just to keep manpower flat. (More this year to make up for the crippled and the dead.) How many has the MoD been able to sign up this year with a major deadly war going on?
We don’t know, but if the MoD misses its target by 15K and the regions raise 15K then that isn’t really “additional” manpower. That’s just chipping in to help the MoD keep the manpower flat. (Or redirecting the manpower to the more lucrative service in the regional units.)
Financing and recruitment by regions is an interesting improvisation but clearly limited in what it can accomplish. The truly impactful step would be to authorize the military to deploy its serving conscripts. At any one time Russia has 270,000 conscripts in uniform, about half in the land combat arms.
Conscripts could immediately provide 10X the numbers of the 3rd Corps. Moreover, in war conscripts can be stop-lossed and retained past their 1-year term. This means that over time Russia could build up hundreds of thousands of infantry as new cohorts are added even as the old ones are retained.
Of course, the problem for Putin is that what that would mean on the domestic front is anybody’s guess.