The Russian Manpower Advantage Myth – Or Putin In Wonderland

The Russian Spring Offensive is underway. Yawn.

Let’s talk manpower like we talked tanks the other day:

Russian Tanks By The Numbers

The Basics, Big Red Car?

Of course, dear reader, let’s lay the foundation, shall we?

 1. Russia is a country of 144,000,000 of which approximately 1,000,000 men in the prime draft age range have fled.

Crack Russian conscripts eager to fight and die in Ukraine. Haha. The smart ones fled the country.

 2. Ukraine is a country of 44,000,000 of which 8,000,000 refugees have fled the country with twice that number displaced internally, but no men of the appropriate draft age are allowed to flee by law.

 3. Russia invaded Ukraine with a military force of 290,000 soldiers.

Russia is more than three times — 3X — bigger than its peaceful neighbor, Ukraine.

Background, Big Red Car?

All history in this conflict flows from 1991 when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR, imploded and Russia became a standalone country.

Big point: The Putin Russian Federation is NOT the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and is not the Russia of World War II. It is far smaller.

At that time, Russia reconstituted its national army and lost the support of the captive republics of which Ukraine was one.

Ukraine cast off the Russian mantle and became a sovereign country and learned to walk again.

Ukraine took over the former USSR army within its borders that was filled with Ukrainian citizens who served in the former USSR army.

This Ukrainian/former USSR army was pretty good for its times. Ukraine was also a credible munitions manufacturer (tanks, artillery, rockets) and had nuclear weapons — though they arguably belonged to Russia as the heir to the USSR.

This Ukrainian army was about 700,000 men. This is a big point. Ukraine had a big army in the early 1990s when it was a much smaller country. 

Then what happened, Big Red Car?

Ukraine — a corrupt country in the style of Russia — had a series of revolts and elections lurching first toward Russia and then away. It was chaotic and in the end, clearly, Ukraine wanted to become part of the west rather than re-engaging with the new Putin Russian empire.

In 2008, Ukraine applied to become part of NATO.

This pissed the little mutt off and in 2014 he took action:

 1. Putin dummied up an invasion of Crimea under the guise of a popular desire to align with the Russian Federation. He orchestrated a fake referendum and sent in Spetsnaz units to pose as locals calling them “separatists.”

Crimea was once fertile farmland and had Sevastopol, a critical warm water port and the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea fleet. The Russians leased the port from Ukraine.

2. Putin did the same thing with two oblasts in southeast Ukraine and open warfare between Russian “separatists” and the central Ukrainian government broke out.

This was hardcore fighting.

In  2014, the Obama admin sent Ukraine non-lethal aid and barely mentioned Russian medieval behavior. Putin took note of this.

There has been conflict between Putin’s Russia and Ukraine since 2014.

Uhhh, manpower, Big Red Car?

Yes, manpower. Sorry, but I thought we needed to track how we got here.

 1. Russia, under Putin, claimed it modernized its army of 1,000,000 men (more like 600,000) and 2,000,000 reservists.

A Russian reservist is a former conscript — age 19 – 60 — who served his one year and went home never intending to put on a uniform again. A Russian reservist is not someone voluntarily serving in a unit ready to go to war tomorrow, like American reserve units.

 2. The Russians attacked Ukraine with a force of about 290,000 with a tank heavy thrust toward Kyiv they expected to succeed in a few days, whereafter they expected to hang Voldomar Zelenskyy and install a Russia “friendly” government.

 3. The Ukrainians shocked the world (including those zany chaps over at the CIA and military intelligence who pegged the over/under at a week, seven days – boy did they get that wrong) and stopped the Russian thrust toward Kyiv.

 4. The Ukrainians with 200,000 soldiers and excellent gear — initially anti-tank guided missiles — knocked the crap out of the Russians.

Interesting factoid: The Ukrainians, from the first day of the war, cleverly targeted fuel tankers and destroyed them wholesale thereby stranding gobs of tanks, armored artillery, and infantry fighting vehicles on the road to Kyiv, whereafter they came back and flamed the armor.

Every war has its technical advance and this one, initially, was the combination of ATGMs and drones. With an ATGM — if you can see them, you can kill them. With a drone and satellite imagery, you can see all of them.


The Russians took massive casualties — KIA, WIA, MIA, POW — and as we sit today, it is likely the real numbers are about 130,000 KIA and 1.5 – 2X that number in WIA.

Purists will immediately object and point out that the ratio between KIA : WIA should be more like 1 : 3. Normally, they would be correct, but Russian battlefield medicine is horribly deficient and men who would be medevaced to a high level of medical care in an American scheme die on the battlefield.

The Russians have essentially blown through the entire invasion force. They have lost 2/3s of their tanks and more than 250,000 men. [WIAs may return to the battlefield when discharged from hospital.]

The Ukrainians have likely taken 40,000 KIA and 3X that number WIA.

The Ukrainians started with about 200,000 men and increased their force to a current level of approximately 500,000 (after absorbing casualties).

Manpower, Big Red Car?

Ahhh, yes, dear reader, manpower.

 1. The Russians typically draft 360,000 men a year for a one year term as a conscript. This is normal. Their army is theoretically 40% contract professional soldiers and 60% conscripts.

 2. As Putin read the “special military operation” casualty rolls, he authorized a draft of an additional 300,000 men pretending he was simply mining the rolls of the reserves (former conscripts).

This action triggered the 1,000,000 man march of unwilling young men who fled the country.

 3. The Russian mobilization went poorly and most of the conscripts are from rural Russia rather than Moscow or St. Petersburg.

The third largest Russian city is in Siberia — Novosibirsk — with 1.6MM people total. There are 37 Russian cities with more than 500,000 people.

There is a cunning element from whence the conscripts are drafted — Putin does not want to risk civil unrest by drafting conscripts in Moscow or St. Petersburg and, thus, the draft is conducted in the hinterlands as far away as Siberia.

 4. A substantial number of the conscripts went into Russian industry — staffing tank manufacturing facilities, as an example.

 5. Putin authorized an additional 200,000 man conscription and, it is rumored, there is currently an additional 500,000 man conscription underway.

This is very  unpopular with the Russian people as are the stream of body bags returning from Ukraine.

 6. At the same time, reacting to the desire of Sweden and Finland to join NATO, Putin announced the addition of 500,000 men to the regular Russian army (as opposed to the special military operation in Ukraine) and moving more army headquarters further west to confront NATO closer to the border.

Good luck with that, you little mutt.

So, Big Red Car, WTF?

The Russians are casting about and trying to create a groundswell of manpower with which to overwhelm and drown the Ukrainians.

The Ukrainians are not following the script and when conscripts are tapped to fill out Russian army units that have been treated savagely, the Ukrainians are killing the poorly trained conscripts.

Russian conscripts have been drafted and appear in Russian units and are sent home in body bags within as few as two weeks.

What’s really going on here, Big Red Car?

The Russian army is not very good as demonstrated in the field.

They are even weaker when it comes to drafting and training conscripts.

An individual soldier is typically sent to basic training, advanced individual training, and then is trained further on-the-job with his unit. Not in Russia.

It takes about a year to adequately train a soldier such that he can engage and fight as part of an organized unit.


The regular Russian army is so poorly run that Putin has resorted to engaging mercenaries such as the Wagner Group — a bunch of henchpersons who are more brutal and Dark Ages than the regular Russian army (which is saying a lot).

Pre-Ukraine, Wagner was about 7,000 mercs and was in Syria and Africa.

At its peak, Wagner was 10,000 contract bastards and 40,000 Russian felons released from prison with the proviso they go to Ukraine and fight with Wagner for 6-12 months.

Wagner has lost about 12,000 KIA and 20,000 WIA rendering them a less toothy tiger.

There is a Chechnyan unit run by a chap called Ramzan Kadyrov — a first rate POS.

[There are also 20,000 Chechnyan soldiers fighting for Ukraine as volunteers in revenge for what Putin did to Chechnya.]

How long does it take to train a unit, Big Red Car?

In World War II, General George Catlett Marshall hatched a plan to defeat the Germans and the Japanese — with the assumption the Russians folded and surrendered to the Germans — that required more than 200 American divisions — straight leg infantry, mechanized infantry, airborne, cavalry, armored, and Marines.

The US had the 17th largest military on Pearl Harbor day and fewer than five battle ready divisions.

Marshall, THE Architect of Victory in the eyes of Winston Churchill, took a gigantic risk and posited the Russians would hold on (the Arsenal of Democracy was supporting them) and not surrender, that the Allies could defeat the Krauts first, and that US divisions in Europe would be available to transfer to the Pacific to finish off the Japs.

It was a huuuuuuuuuuge gamble and Marshall made it work.

Nonetheless, the US Army stood up almost 100 divisions in World War II.

The average division required a year to man, train, and conduct maneuvers.

[Important factoid: Marshall ordered the famous Louisiana Maneuvers I/II after which he got rid of 30/42 general officers and all generals over the age of 55. Patton was an armored division commander and Eisenhower was the chief of staff of one of the armies. What Marshall learned about Patton (best armored pursuit commander) and Eisenhower (fabulous staff work and alliance builder) during the Louisiana Maneuvers dictated those men’s careers.]

This new division would not be ready to fight, but they would be ready to get their cherry popped in combat. Only after a unit has been blooded can you shake out who the performers are when the feces hits the fan.

This frame of reference ignores a huge consideration: Sergeants run the army. Officers command the army.

The Russian NCO corps (sergeants) and junior officer corps (lieutenants and captains) are not very good, have absorbed crushing losses, and cannot be replaced like conscripted riflemen.

When the US  built new divisions in World War II, it was common to build them around a cadre of combat experienced NCOs and junior officers to seed the mine with talent, blooded talent.

This goes back to a concept called: “Calhoun’s Expansible Army” in which a division was halved to form two divisions, thus having at least half of the new division familiar with each other.

The Russians are not doing this. Instead, they are jamming untrained conscripts into units with massive voids particularly amongst the NCOs and junior officers.

The Germans in World War II were very good at taking shot up units and returning them to their geographical base and rebuilding them completely. In this way, they never lost the combat experienced NCOs and junior officers. They tied their units to a particular region or city.

We getting close to the bottom line, Big Red Car?

Yes, I suppose the bottom line is this:

 1. The Russian manpower advantage is a borderline myth as they are not trained soldiers they are injecting into the mix.

 2. The war is shaping up to be better gear versus manpower.

It is also worth noting the Russians cannot make drones, are buying drones from Iran, want to buy drones from China, are dragging 1950s infantry fighting vehicles out of mothballs, and buying ammo from North Korea.

 3. The Ukrainians are more motivated than Russian conscripts — no big surprise here.

The average Russian soldier is confused as to why he’s in Ukraine and doesn’t want to be there — witness again the 1,000,000 men who fled Russia rather than be conscripted.

Give me 5 highly motivated soldiers fighting for kith and kin, and you can have any 10 felons and draftees you want and I will kick your ass.

 4. The fly in the ointment is the speed with which the west/US/NATO delivers on its promised weapons support.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.