“The shortage [of manpower] is palpable,” Ukraine’s military top spy chief, Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov, told Financial Times in a new interview, describing the most pressing situation facing the country after nearly two years of war.
He warned that “it is not even conceivable to think that we can do without mobilization” — which reflects the consensus of the military’s leadership, and strongly points to staggering losses by the Ukrainian side, though an official running casualty count has never been revealed. Russia has also likely suffered immense losses, but can tap into much greater manpower and artillery, which is also allegedly being supplied from such nefarious actors as North Korea.
As part of its report, FT has reviewed that Zelensky recently revealed that his army chiefs requested him “to mobilize about 400,000 to 500,000 new soldiers to replace those killed or wounded, and to rest those involved in the most intense fighting.”
Still, Budanov tried to paint an optimistic picture at a moment that even mainstream US press has lamented the current state of the war as a total failure and disaster for Ukraine:
Ukrainian troops never managed to decisively breach Russia’s heavily fortified defences: the frontline remains almost the same as it looked a year ago. But Budanov maintains he was not wrong.
“Although the original plans suggested something different, we kept our promise. This summer, our units repeatedly entered Crimea,” he said, referring to his commandos sneaking on to the peninsula to carry out raids on Russian bases.
Not only have Ukrainian operatives done brief but ineffective raids into Crimea, but the last several weeks have seen stepped-up cross border drone and rocket attacks against Russian border regions, particularly targeting Belgorod city, resulting in dozens of casualties over months of sporadic waves of strikes.
Many war analysts have looked upon these attacks on Russian territory as a sign of increasing desperation. The Ukrainian strikes have been focused on civilian areas of Belgorod, and have little or no strategic value, but is more an act of ‘revenge’ and perhaps part of seeking to impose a “cost” on the Russian population in hopes of pressuring the Putin government.
Kiev has been mulling a new mass mobilization since at least December, when media reports first cited Zelensky as saying, “This is a serious number,” while explaining further he has to look at more arguments to support this direction.” He added at the time, “I need concrete information on what will (then) happen with the one-million military of Ukraine,” according to The Kyiv Independent.
Any new mass mobilization is likely to be met with fierce pushback among the population and some government officials. Already there have been signs of fracture within the government over what to do as it’s increasingly clear Ukrainian forces are ‘losing’ – especially in manpower, arms, and ammo.
Zelensky’s security services and military recruiters have also been accused of abusing their power under martial law, also amid allegations of corruption, with The New York Times having previously reported Ukrainian army recruiters have become “increasingly aggressive in their efforts to replenish the ranks, in some cases pulling men off the streets and whisking them to recruiting centers using intimidation and even physical force.”
There have even been reports of men with diagnosed mental disabilities being subjected to attempted drafts. Currently, men ages 18-60 may be mobilized and still have no right to leave Ukraine, per the stipulations under martial law.
“If you are of mobilization age, you should be in Ukraine”
“This is a fact. And then you will fight or not fight. You will work. You cannot rest. You either work or fight,” said the President of Ukraine.
— The_Real_Fly (@The_Real_Fly) January 17, 2024
FT has underscored that Ukraine’s prospects look bleak at the start of this new year:
Finally returning to the subject of the war, Budanov declined to make any bold predictions for 2024. “No,” he said. “I hope that our success will be greater than theirs.” Then he slipped out of the darkened room.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces have continued their desperate tactics while the frontlines have not moved and Russia solidifies hold over the Donbass. On Sunday, at least 27 people were killed after Ukrainian forces heavily shelled a market on the outskirts of the Russian-controlled city of Donestk.
“As a result of Ukraine’s artillery shelling attack on the Tekstilshchik district, 27 civilians have died. Twenty-five more, including two teenagers, received various wounds,” announced Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk People’s Republic.