Putin's Newest Military Move May Come Back to Haunt Him

Putin’s Newest Military Move May Come Back to Haunt Him

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order Friday to increase his number of servicemen by nearly 170,000 troops, according to a document published by the Kremlin’s website.

The document, which was shared by Moscow on Friday, states that the military personnel quota of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is now set at 1,320,000 troops—an increase from the previous level set at 1,150,628, according to the Russian state-owned media outlet TASS.

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) told Reuters that the increase was in response to “the growing threats to our country associated with the special military operation and the ongoing expansion of NATO.” Putin’s troops have also reportedly suffered heavy losses in recent weeks as the war in Ukraine rages on toward its 22nd month.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on November 29, 2023. Putin signed an order on Friday to increase the number of military servicemembers by 170,000, a potentially risky move with support for the war in Ukraine starting to waver.
“The increase in the number of military personnel of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is being implemented in stages at the expense of citizens who express a desire to perform military service under a contract,” Russia’s MoD said in a statement to TASS. “In this regard, a significant increase in the conscription of citizens for compulsory military service is not planned. No mobilization is envisaged.”

Putin’s latest move could be another political gamble for the Kremlin leader, who is facing a reelection vote in March. Moscow officials have said that Putin is expected to have no serious competitors in the election, but with the war in Ukraine growing increasingly unpopular among Russian citizens, it’s possible that Putin’s continued support of the offensive could be an obstacle to his reelection campaign.

Mark Katz, a professor at George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, noted in an email to Newsweek that not all polling numbers have shown bad news for Putin, including a study published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Tuesday, which found that 75 percent of Russian citizens “generally support the actions of the Rusian armed forces.”

“Still, even if the Russian public supports the war effort now, there is no guarantee that it will continue doing so, especially if the regime tries to increase the size of the army,” Katz added.”Putin, though, may not yet have to take the unpopular move of conscripting large numbers of Russians from the cities if he can fill out the ranks with prisoners as well as with non-Russian minorities (two groups that the Russian public is not so concerned about casualties among).”

Investigative journalist site Important Stories (IStories) reportedly earlier this month that the Russian MoD had begun targeting “vulnerable” populations to fight in the war against Ukraine, including “migrants, bankrupts, debtors, the unemployed.” According to a letter sent by the presidential envoy to Russia’s Central Federal District, the Kremlin had identified 22 categories in total of citizens that Moscow wants to target with contract-based recruitment efforts.

Regardless of who the Kremlin considers a serious contender and on top of wavering public support for Putin’s war, the Kremlin leader recently gained a new challenger to his 2024 election bid. Detained former Russian commander Igor Girkin announced his intent to run for president just last week, and experts told Newsweek that the move could spell bad news for Putin, with Girkin likely hoping to attract the part of the electorate who have blamed Moscow’s military for not already capturing Ukraine.

With elections in Russia typically kept under heavy oversight by the Kremlin, however, Katz added in his email to Newsweek, “I don’t think Putin is seriously worried about the outcome.”

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.

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