Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced on January 17 that he will implement Russian President Vladimir Putin’s directive to conduct large-scale military reforms between 2023-2026 to expand Russia’s conventional armed forces, likely in preparation for a protracted war in Ukraine and also to set conditions to build a significantly stronger Russian military quickly. Shoigu stated that Putin ordered Russian authorities to increase the number of Russian military personnel to 1.5 million (from the current 1.35 million). Shoigu outlined that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) will institute unspecified “large-scale changes” in the composition, complement, and administrative divisions of the Russian Armed Forces between 2023-2026. Shoigu noted that Russia also needs to strengthen the key structural components of the Russian Armed Forces. Shoigu announced that Russia will reestablish the Moscow and Leningrad military districts, form a new army corps in Karelia (on the Finnish border), form new self-sufficient force groupings in occupied Ukraine, and form 12 new maneuver divisions. Shoigu added that Russia needs to increase its capabilities to adequately prepare its forces by developing more training grounds and increasing the number of trainers and specialists. Shoigu first foreshadowed aspects of this reform at the Russian MoD Collegium meeting on December 21 when he proposed that Russia form two new airborne assault divisions, three new motorized rifle divisions, and reform seven existing brigades of the Northern Fleet and Western, Central, and Eastern Military districts into seven new motorized rifle divisions while expanding five existing naval infantry brigades into five naval infantry divisions. It appears that Shoigu did not include the reformation of five naval infantry brigades into divisions in his January 17 statement. It is unclear if that part of the plan has been dropped.
These reforms demonstrate Russia’s intent to reform the Russian military to conduct large-scale conventional warfighting in general and not just for the current war against Ukraine, as ISW has previously assessed. It is unclear if the Russian military will be able to grow as Shoigu described within three years. Russia can nominally form new divisions but it remains unclear if Russia can generate enough forces to fully staff them to their doctrinal end strengths amid an ongoing war. Shoigu made previous announcements about Russian military reforms that never came to fruition, such as in May 2022 when he called for the formation of 12 new Western Military District (WMD) units of unspecified echelon by the end of 2022 and for the Russian MoD to recruit 100,000 reservists in August 2021. Russia has previously faced challenges with fully staffing existing brigades and regiments, lacking sufficient trainers, and fully forming one new division it announced in 2020 before the start of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The restructuring of the 150th Motorized Rifle Division (8th Combined Arms Army) took over a year. Russia will also continue to face economic problems, which may continue to strain the Russian military command’s ability to supply its forces.
Russia’s ability to generate large-scale rapid change in its military capacity depends on President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to redirect large portions of the federal budget to a military buildup and putting Russia on something like a war footing for several years. There are signs that Putin might be willing to do so. Reform and expansion on the scale Shoigu outlined will not happen in time to affect the war in Ukraine materially for many months, but it could change the correlation of forces going into 2024, and it could establish conditions for a much more formidable Russian military threat to its neighbors, including NATO, in the coming years. Ukraine likely continues to have a window of opportunity into and through the summer if the West provides it the support it needs.
Putin may announce a second mobilization wave to expand his army in the coming days—possibly as early as January 18. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov announced on January 17 that Putin will deliver a speech in St. Petersburg on January 18 in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of Soviet forces breaking the Nazi siege of Leningrad, Putin’s hometown. Putin is fond of using symbolic dates to address the Russian people, and some Russian pro-war milbloggers noted that he will seize this opportunity to either declare mobilization or war with Ukraine. Ukrainian and Western intelligence also repeatedly warned of Putin’s mobilization preparations scheduled for mid-January.
- Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced on January 17 that he will implement Russian President Vladimir Putin’s directive to conduct large-scale military reforms between 2023-2026 to expand Russia’s conventional armed forces, likely in preparation for a protracted war in Ukraine and also to set conditions to build a significantly stronger Russian military quickly.
- Putin may announce a second mobilization wave in the coming days, possibly as soon as January 18.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is trying to improve professionalism within the Russian armed forces and likely test and improve the effectiveness of its chains of command down to the small unit level.
- Several prominent voices in the pro-war information space seized on these guidelines to support further criticisms of the Russian MoD, suggesting that the MoD will likely face stiff resistance.
- Serbian President Alexander Vucic called on the Wagner Group to cease recruitment in Serbia.
- Russian forces continued to conduct limited counterattacks near Kreminna as Ukrainian officials continued to suggest that Russian forces may be preparing for a decisive effort in Luhansk Oblast.
- Russian forces continued offensive actions across the Donetsk Oblast front line.
- The Russian information space is struggling to portray tactical Russian gains around Soledar as operationally significant.
- Russian forces in Kherson Oblast continue to struggle to maintain their logistics efforts in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast due to Ukrainian strikes.
- A Russian occupation official claimed that Putin will make an “important statement” pertaining to the war in Ukraine on January 18.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin may be attempting to establish the Wagner Group as a legal entity in Russia.