Sending conscripts to high-casualty environments has proven a disastrous policy for governments the world over. With ethnically diverse regions bearing the brunt of conscription, will the war in Ukraine spark a new era of Russian secessionism?
Russia’s over-reliance on conscripts in Ukraine – recruited from politically indifferent families and ethnically diverse regions within the Federation – may very well come to undermine Russia’s state stability, a recent report has alleged.
Connor Mitchell in the Small Wars Journal this week has contended that Russia’s use of a conscript-based military within offensive operations is out-of-step with most modern prevailing military doctrines, where conscription is used to buttress a nation against aggressive rivals.
With the use of conscripts in high-casualty warfare proving an unpopular policy across cultures and nations, the Kremlin is at risk of both alienating Russia’s politically ambivalent population and building discontent between Russia’s autonomous regions.
According to Mitchell, this is a recipe for disaster for the Kremlin.
“Russian conscripts, who are told by their government that their service will not be in Ukraine, are finding themselves increasingly deliberately misinformed and lied to in order to circumvent the Russian government’s public stance,” Mitchell argued.
Not only does such Kremlin misdirection alienate the soldiers themselves who start to question the nation’s military and civil authorities, but also their family groups who are made aware of the realities of war.
Mitchell points to historical examples, including Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands, as an example of how over-reliance on conscript forces politically and ideologically ambivalent populations toward support for the opposition.
“Regardless of the actual performance of the Argentinian conscripts, their use in the Falklands War shifted conscription from the military realm into the political realm,” he noted.
“The unfortunate and inevitable truth in any armed conflict is that people will die, regardless of nationality, uniform, or time spent training… all to be defeated by the British military over a small island in the South Atlantic.”
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Indeed, the political reality of conscript casualties fundamentally undermined the confidence and belief that many had in the Argentinian junta, even among their own supporters.
Though, Mitchell illuminates that conscription has had another disastrous impact on Russian unity and social cohesion: that being the role of hazing.
Mitchell contends that, “Russian military hazing and abuse is so harsh that it directly led to a twenty-year-old conscript gunning down eight compatriots in 2019 after a particularly savage hazing episode.”
The analyst references The Moscow Times to demonstrate the breadth of hazing within the Russian military.
Speaking to The Moscow Times, Alexander Latynin, board member of the NGO “Union of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia”, shone a spotlight on the breadth of hazing within the Russian military.
“We receive about 300 phone calls a day — 10 per cent of them reporting hazing incidents — along with 20 emails a day, one or two of which will be about hazing,” Latynin said.
He noted that the other reports the NGO received often included verbal abuse from superiors, “inadequate medical treatment and failure of the authorities to issue uniforms”.
However, Mitchell notes that conscripts aren’t recruited evenly from over the Russian Federation.
Rather, many conscripts are sourced from communities of non-Slavic peoples – not only keeping ethnic Russians shielded from the atrocities but magnifying Russian losses to specific regions within the federation.
If discontent wasn’t already high within these communities having observed the loss of loved ones – it would certainly increase with multiple conscript people dying in the same towns.
“In fact, many ethnic Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tatars, Ossetians, Kyrgyz, and Chechens have been forced to fight in Ukraine at disproportionate numbers to ethnic Russian Slavs,” Mitchell explained.
“By utilising conscripts and contract soldiers from regions like Dagestan in the Caucasus or Buryatia in Siberia, alongside seeking Libyan and Syrian mercenaries, the Russian government is sparing the ethnic Russian population from the actual cost of Putin’s irredentist ideals.”
Discontent within Russia’s autonomous and ethnically diverse regions isn’t a new phenomenon.
As they shoulder the brunt of Russia’s casualties during the invasion of Ukraine, only time will tell whether historic separatist movements begin to re-emerge.