Russian troops

The Russian Military’s People Problem

May 18, 2022
Dara Massicot

This is a summary of an article originally published by Foreign Affairs, with the subheading: "It’s Hard for Moscow to Win While Mistreating Its Soldiers."

The author, a senior policy researcher at RAND, writes:

  • “In Ukraine, the Russian military struggles to retrieve the bodies of its dead, obscures casualties, and is indifferent to its worried military families. It may spend billions of dollars on new equipment, but it does not properly treat soldiers’ injuries, and it generally does not appear to care tremendously whether troops are traumatized.”
  • “This culture of indifference to its personnel fundamentally compromises the Russian military’s efficacy, no matter how extensively it has been modernized. … [T]he Russian high command behaves as if its troops are an afterthought, making tactical decisions as if it can simply throw people at poorly designed objectives until it succeeds. This is a self-defeating attitude that both lowers troops’ morale and degrades combat effectiveness. The results are plain to see.
  • “The Russian military stands to lose much more than the thousands of pieces of equipment that have been destroyed. The Russian military's experiment in having professional enlisted personnel is almost 20 years old. Its success relies on the prestige of military service and social trust that the Ministry of Defense worked to achieve through a series of new policies, benefits and improved service conditions.”
  • “Feeding the country’s young men into what U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently called a ‘wood chipper’ undermines that contract, and it does not bode well for future recruiting and retention.”
  • “The country still has conscripts, but if the invasion’s popularity sags as the war drags on, Russian families may return to the old ways of keeping their sons away from the draft, such as through bribes or by hiding them domestically or abroad. The military may then have no choice but to change its personnel culture, but it will be too late to achieve its larger aims in Ukraine. It will also be too late to save the thousands of troops being carelessly sacrificed for Russia’s attempt at conquest.”

Read the full article at Foreign Affairs.


Dara Massicot

Dara Massicot is a senior policy researcher at RAND.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. Photo by shared under a Creative Commons license.