This text first appeared on ntv.de
Russia has been attacking Ukraine for over a year and a half now. President Vladimir Putin has recruited hundreds of thousands of soldiers for the war in the neighboring country. The Ukrainian military says there are currently 400,000 enemy fighters in Ukraine. In addition, there are estimated to be up to 300,000 deaths in the past 19 months. These are extremely high numbers. Although Russia is a huge country, finding new soldiers and sending them to war is becoming increasingly complicated.
That's why Moscow is now even looking for soldiers abroad. Among other things, in far away Cuba, formerly a Soviet sister state. There is said to be a Russian smuggling network that allegedly lured Cubans into the war with false promises. The Cuban Foreign Ministry announced this at the beginning of the month and pointed out that it was working to dismantle this system.
"They are at the front to protect the Russian troops. They are cannon fodder," says a Cuban mother on ntv about the smuggling system on her home island. The Russians hired her son to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure, but instead he was sent to war.
According to the government, several hundred Cubans are deployed in Ukraine. Experts suspect that the Caribbean state is taking such vehement action against Russian recruits primarily out of fear of new sanctions from the USA. Recently, 17 men suspected of recruiting for the war in Ukraine were arrested in Cuba.
But Cuba does not appear to be the only country where Russia is looking for potential soldiers. According to the British Ministry of Defense, Moscow has identified a lot of potential, especially in neighboring Central Asian countries. Accordingly, the Kremlin is assuming at least six million possible recruits.
Advertisements in Kazakhstan and Armenia are given as concrete examples. Moscow is luring people here with a bonus of 495,000 rubles, which is the equivalent of just under 4,800 euros. This means that at least 1,800 euros are added per month during combat operations - this significantly exceeds the average wage in these countries.
The high salary can be tempting not only for people in neighboring countries, but also for residents of remote areas within Russia. In Yakutia in the Far East or in Buryatia on the border with Mongolia, people earn on average less than 400 euros per month.
The money is a good argument for many people in these regions to go to war, says Russian economist Vladivslav Inosemtsev in the ntv podcast “Learned something again.” "Because if they enlist in the army, they get 600,000 rubles in hand and another million rubles extra if they fight for six months. They can use the money to pay off their mortgage or send their daughter to study in Moscow. "
In Russia, dying is now in many cases more lucrative than living. Inozemtsev therefore speaks of the “economy of death”.
If a recruit dies in war, the survivors are financially provided for. If a family member volunteers for military service and is killed in action, around 30,000 euros will be paid out. A fairly high level of life insurance, which Putin only introduced by decree this summer. In addition, there are 5 million rubles, currently around 48,000 euros, as a so-called “one-off payment from the president”, which has been available since March 2022 for the families of war dead.
The Russian Ministry of Defense also pays its own compensation, which has been a good 45,000 euros since the beginning of this year. In addition, there is around 10,000 euros from the respective regional authority. In total, the equivalent of over 130,000 euros in payments could be collected for the surviving dependents. In the poorest regions of Russia, people have to work for this amount for 30 years.
The cynical consequence of Putin's policy is a "huge structural program for the poorest Russian regions," comments economist Inosemtsov. In the remote areas of the huge country, “new houses and high-paying jobs” are already being built in many places.
The Russian president is not interested in recruiting particularly motivated or well-trained men. "By now, every Russian family probably has people who were sent into this war as cannon fodder. But Putin doesn't take that into account. It's just about the mass of people that can be brought into the field," says security expert Christian Mölling from the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP) in the “Stern” podcast “Ukraine – the situation”.
But sometimes even a comparatively large amount of money is not enough to lure men to war. There are numerous reports of forced recruitment, particularly in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories. According to Kiev's military intelligence service, a total of around 60,000 Ukrainians are said to have been forcibly recruited into the Russian armed forces.
This approach has been commonplace in Crimea since the peninsula was illegally annexed in 2014. In the eight years leading up to the full invasion of Ukraine, the Russians forcibly recruited 34,000 people in Crimea, ZDF quotes Yevgeny Yaroshenko from the human rights organization KrymSOS.
The British Ministry of Defense recently even reported a case in which foreigners were forced to serve in war. For example, in the occupied southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Uzbek construction workers were pressured to join the Russian military.
Russia's various recruiting routes suggest that the vast country is indeed running out of soldiers. Expert Christian Mölling sees the reason for the increasing staff shortage primarily in Putin's war strategy. "Russia has a constant need to recruit soldiers or ordinary citizens to throw them at the front. But they are not succeeding. This is a permanent situation."
Russia is relying on the mass factor in order to wear down Kiev's troops with as many soldiers as possible in the long term.
In theory, at least, there is no shortage of people - Russia has more than 140 million inhabitants, more than three times as many as Ukraine. But the sheer number of fighters has not yet been able to decide this war. The Russian soldiers are often poorly trained and not very motivated, while the Ukrainians are willing to defend their country at the risk of their lives.
Vladimir Putin also wants this from his troops - but the Kremlin boss often has to compensate for a lack of will with a lot of money. And because he plans to run for re-election next year as president for another six years, he cannot afford any further major mobilization at the moment. At least not an open one, as ntv Russia correspondent Rainer Munz reports. "There are presidential elections next year, and you don't want to have a bad mood. We saw last year what happens when there is open mobilization. Hundreds of thousands have left the country."
Security expert Mölling also does not expect an official mobilization of new forces. "That would probably backfire and potentially make the right-wing forces in Russia much stronger. That could increase the loss of control in the Kremlin. I think that's the prospect that people are afraid of."
Putin doesn't want to take any more risks before next year's presidential elections. This explains the Russian military's recruitment efforts in Central Asia and the Caribbean.
In Cuba, the Kremlin appears to have already taken a step further. In any case, the ambassador to Russia recently indicated that there could be opportunities for legal recruitment of Cubans in the future. It is not known whether this is due to pressure from Russia or old socialist brotherhood.