Putin still can't recruit enough soldiers - despite offering bumper pay rise

Russia is struggling to recruit the troops it needs despite tightening draft laws and offering over 2.7 times the national average salary.

Russian servicemen gather in formations before attending the Victory Day military parade rehearsal in central Moscow on May 4, 2023. - Russia will celebrate the 78th anniversary of the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany on May 9. (Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP) (Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)
Russian servicemen at a Victory Day military parade rehearsal in central Moscow on 4 May, 2023. (Getty Images)

Russia is struggling to meet its military recruitment targets, despite offering "increasingly lucrative" salaries to servicemen during the course of the Ukraine war, the UK's Ministry of Defence has said.

On 4 February 2022, the day the Kremlin's forces launched their full-scale invasion, Vladimir Putin noted that a lieutenant would receive 81,200 rubles, which would be worth around £675 today.

As the war dragged on, Putin said even mobilised private soldiers would receive 195,000 rubles per month, now worth £1,620.

Money offered to troops has kept on climbing, with the MoD claiming that "many junior ranks serving in Ukraine are now on over 200,000 rubles (about £1,660 per month).

To put this in relative terms, this is over 2.7 times Russia's national average salary of 72,851 rubles. The MoD adds: "By way of comparison, 2.7 times the average UK salary would equate to over £90,000 a year."

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The ministry concludes: "It is highly likely that the salary and additional benefits are a strong incentive for personnel to join up, especially to those from the poorer areas of Russia. However, Russia is still unlikely to meet its targets for recruiting volunteers to the ranks."

Having lost tens of thousands of men in the war, the Kremlin has been trying to boost its military's numbers, with Russia voting in July to raise the maximum age at which men can be conscripted to 30 years from 27.

This increased the number of young men liable for a year of compulsory military service at any one time.

Last year, Russia announced a plan to boost its professional and conscripted combat personnel by more than 30% to 1.5 million, an ambitious task made harder by its heavy but undisclosed casualties in Ukraine.

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Conscripts cannot legally be deployed to fight outside Russia and were in theory exempted from a limited mobilisation last autumn that gathered at least 300,000 men with previous military training to fight in Ukraine - although some conscripts were sent to the front in error.

However, Russia unilaterally claimed four Ukrainian regions as its own last September - in a move not recognised internationally - fuelling fears that raw conscripts could now legally be sent into battle.

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In an attempt to tighten its grip over would-be fighters, Putin signed a law in April allowing for electronic draft notices to be sent to conscripts, closing a loophole that allowed people to avoid military service.

Russia has also been running a propaganda campaign, emotionally manipulating men into signing up, with wives of soldiers and other women frequently appealing to their masculinity on TV news interviews, according to the New York Times.

Moscow's heavy losses in Ukraine and an uncertain chance of victory could help explain its struggle to recruit enough soldiers, but it could also have something to do with reports of increasing delays to soldiers' payments.

Residents of 52 Russian regions, as well as the annexed Crimean peninsula, complained that their relatives fighting in Ukraine had either been receiving delayed or partial payments, according to the Moscow Times, citing a report by independent outlet Verstka

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Some said they hadn't been paid at all, with both professional soldiers and conscripts reportedly affected by the mismanagement.

Valentina Melnikova, who heads the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia, blamed Russia's military bureaucracy and its struggle to keep track of the number of additional soldiers dragged into the war.

She told Verstka: "We've never had so many people involved in conflicts before... There is no experience of working with such personnel."

Writing on Russian social media, one frustrated family member said: "My brother hasn't been paid for two months. Will we start fighting for free, or what?"