Russia’s War Mobilization Is Pointless As Long As Its Army Lacks Trucks

Russian authorities have begun rounding up the first of 300,000 draftees the Kremlin hopes will make good the steep losses—80,000 or more dead and wounded—the Russian army has suffered in the first seven months of its wider war in Ukraine.

On paper, 300,000 new recruits is … a lot of new recruits. The Russian army went to war in Ukraine with just 900,000 active troops on its rolls, after all. But the current mobilization, even if it goes smoothly—and it be clear, it won’t—almost certainly can’t produce much in the way of offensive combat power.

Leaving aside the terrible quality of these draftees—they’re older and less fit than any army would prefer—as well as the Russian army’s shortage of experienced officers and sergeants to lead them and modern weaponry to arm them, there’s the truck problem.

The Russian army months ago ran out of reliable supply trucks. Lacking trucks, the army is tethered to its railheads.

The best the Kremlin can hope for, as far as mobilization outcomes go, is to bulk up existing battalions with a lot of under-trained, poorly-armed draftees who might be able to sit in a trench not far from a rail depot and inaccurately shoot at any Ukrainian forces attacking them, but who lack any ability to conduct attacks of their own. Attacks the Russian army’s battered logistical brigades simply could not sustain.

The Russian army had too few trucks even before the war. Just 11 logistical brigades, each with around 400 trucks, supported the whole front-line force. Not all of those brigades were fully staffed. Not all their trucks were in working order. The brigades also heavily depended on assistance from less-than-highly-motivated civilian contractors.

The fragility of the army’s trucking infrastructure makes sense when you consider the Kremlin’s traditional reliance on railroads for military logistics. It’s custom in the Russian military for almost all supplies to move on trains. The logistical brigades’ main job is to draw supplies from rail depots and shuttle them by road to front-line forces.

The train-based logistics in turn make sense when you consider what the Russian army traditionally does. One, it defends Russia, a mission that doesn’t require combat forces to travel very far from Russian infrastructure.

Two, it executes Moscow’s foreign policy along the country’s borders. In plain English, it helps the Russian government bully former Soviet countries—Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, the Baltic states, Ukraine. Small wars against weak countries along the Russian border also don’t require Russian forces to travel far from their country’s railheads.

The truck shortage isn’t a problem for the Russian army until it tries to advance deep into enemy territory. Which, of course, is exactly what the army tried to do when it launched a multi-prong attack into Ukraine starting in late February. The assault on Kyiv in particular resulted in Russian brigades rolling a hundred miles or more from the main railhead in Gomel, in Belarus.

Every Russian brigade around Kyiv—and there were several—needed a daily visit by nearly 300 trucks traveling along the highways between Gomel and the front. Ukrainian infantry, artillery and drones made quick work of those convoys, destroying hundreds of trucks and killing potentially thousands of support troops.

So of course the Kyiv assault failed after just a month. It ran out of supplies because it ran out of trucks.

Russian truck losses continued to mount as the war dragged on. Independent analysts have confirmed nearly 1,700 wrecked or captured trucks out of a prewar inventory of around 4,400.

Yes, the Kremlin has replaced some of those losses with a mix of civilian trucks and very old military models it pulled out of long-term storage. But there’s no disputing that the Russian army no longer has the same logistical capacity for a sustained offensive over great distance—not that that capacity was all that substantial to begin with.

Following Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive around Kharkiv and the subsequent Russian retreat from the northeast, two main lines of communication remain for the Russian force in Ukraine—from Rostov-on-Don west into eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region and from occupied Crimea north to occupied Kherson and occupied Melitopol. Both mostly are on rails.

As the Russian army mobilizes its new legion of unhappy draftees, it should be able to move the replacement troops and their outdated equipment to the south and east, where badly-depleted battalions and brigades can absorb them.

But these battalions and brigades already are tied to their railheads owing to the lack of trucks. They are, increasingly, a defensive force. An influx of unenthusiastic conscripts won’t change that.

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