- The former NATO commander said that Putin is “craving” for manpower in Ukraine.
- “Putin will do anything. This is a sign of how difficult this fight has become for him,” he said.
- Russia has relied on mercenaries and POWs to bolster its ranks amid heavy losses in Ukraine.
Nearly 11 months after ordering an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is “scrambling” for manpower to continue fighting, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis told MSNBC on Friday.
“Putin is really struggling to get manpower,” Stavridis said, adding that the Russian leader is looking for more staff everywhere from prisons to homeless shelters and even recruiting men in their 50s and 60s.
“Putin will do anything. This is a sign of how difficult this fight has become for him,” said the former NATO commander.
Russia is estimated to have suffered around 100,000 casualties in Ukraine, a staggering number in less than a year of fighting.
In September, Putin declared a partial military mobilization as part of an effort to solve Russia’s manpower problem, calling up roughly 300,000 reservists. The mobilization was met with a public backlash and saw tens of thousands of Russian men flee the country. Russians called up as a result of mobilization were sent to the front poorly equipped and with little training.
Meanwhile, Russia also sought to bolster its ranks with the help of mercenaries from the infamous Wagner group, which also recruited prisoners to fight on the front lines. Wagner Group fighters now make up roughly 10% of Russian ground forces in Ukraine, British officials told BBC News.
A US official told reporters earlier this week that Russia was using the prisoners to absorb heavy Ukrainian fire and pave the way for “better-trained forces”. The official said Russia was “trading individuals for bullets.”
Russia claimed on Friday that its forces had captured Soledar, a town in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, marking Russia’s first victory in months. However, Ukraine rejected the claim, saying that fighting was ongoing.
Stavridis said the capture of Soledar would give Russian forces a small morale boost, but tactically it was not a “terribly significant” development in the war. Soledar is not far from Bakhmut, a city of about 70,000 inhabitants that Russia has been competing to conquer for months.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington DC-based think tank that closely follows the war in Ukraine, said in its assessment on Thursday that the likely capture of Soledar was “not an operationally significant development” and was unlikely to lead to “imminent Russian encirclement Bakhmut”.
“Russian information operations have exaggerated the importance of Soledar, which is at best a Russian Pyrrhic tactical victory,” ISW said.
This week, Russia announced that General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, was taking over as commander of Russian forces in Ukraine – just three months after his predecessor was given the job. Analysts say the move is likely a sign that serious offensives are on the horizon, but is also likely politically motivated and designed to silence critics amid Russia’s growing military failures in Ukraine.