Nearly four months into the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian army is reportedly in rough shape. They have been sustaining withering losses on the battlefield and the military is struggling to find replacements for losses that now number in the tens of thousands. Vladimir Putin has been offering all sorts of incentives to get more people into uniform, but they are still operating under “peacetime” military rules and it hasn’t proven easy. The campaign in the Donbas region is definitely going better than the disastrous attempt to take Kyiv did and the Russians have focused on moving more slowly, using artillery and missile strikes to “soften up areas” before moving in. But the Ukrainians continue to fight gamely and the flow of Russian soldiers back to their home towns in coffins has continued. So what will Russia do to replace its depleted ranks? (Wall Street Journal)

Since the beginning of what the Kremlin calls its special military operation, it has tried to pursue its campaign with an army at peacetime strength. The results have been mixed. Though Russian forces have made gains in the east and south of the country, they sustained crushing losses in Moscow’s initial attempt to seize Kyiv, by some counts losing as many soldiers as the old Soviet Union did in Afghanistan.

Yet Russia’s leadership has been reluctant to take the step of declaring war, which would allow it to order a full mobilization of fighting-age men. That, analysts say, would tie Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own fate too closely to the outcome.

Instead, Moscow has introduced a number of stopgap measures to reinforce its battle-depleted ranks, from offering lucrative short-term contracts to allowing over-40s to sign up, potentially making tens of thousands more soldiers available.

British intelligence reports suggest that morale among the Russian troops is at a very low level, leading to stories of “desertion and rebellion.” Unfortunately the same is being said about Ukraine’s troops, which are already severely depleted. Many of them are fearing that there is no end in sight.

Putin could forcibly move a lot more fighting-age men into the military under current Russian law if he declared war on Ukraine. But that would require abandoning his consistent position and force him to retract his ludicrous claims that this is a “special military operation” rather than a “war.” (Whatever that means.) Putin’s pride may be what is standing between him and the chance to beef up his military. You can lose a war, while you can choose to “end” a “special military operation.” And Putin doesn’t want to be remembered as the guy who managed to lose a war against Ukraine.

Russia has already raised the maximum enlistment age, hoping to tempt more mature men into the force. They’ve also announced enhanced cash bonuses for those who sign up. But there haven’t been nearly as many takers as they need. While Russians may still not be allowed to speak truthfully about the war in public, it sounds as if many still hold private misgivings and don’t believe that this is something worth laying down their lives over. This war may drag on for a very long time at this rate.

On top of all of this, a British military commander recently told his troops to “prepare for a land war in Europe.”

General Sir Patrick Sanders, the British Army’s newly appointed overall commander, is said to have told his troops to prepare for potential deployment in Europe in order to counter the threat of Russia.

According to a report by the Daily Mail, General Sanders — who only assumed full command of the UK’s army last week — told his troops that they are now facing the possibility of having to fight a war on the European continent, an eventuality that they now have to be prepared for.

“I am the first Chief of the General Staff since 1941 to take command of the Army in the shadow of a land war in Europe involving a continental power,” the senior army officer reportedly wrote.

I don’t know if General Sanders knows something our own intelligence analysts don’t or whether he’s just trying to fire up the troops. But a “land war in Europe” sounds like a lot more than just the current conflict in the Donbas. It sounds to me as if they’re preparing to fight the Russian army on the soil of other European countries. But unless Ukraine miraculously gains rapid entry into either the EU or NATO (neither of which looks likely at the point), a land war in Europe should still be theoretically off the table, right? Unless that is, Mad Vlad goes fully off his rocker and launches a second front in the war against another allied partner.

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