Russian president Vladimir Putin has ordered the country’s military to increase the number of troops by nearly 170,000 to a total of 1.32 million, as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine continues into its 22nd month.
Putin’s decree was released by the Kremlin on Friday and took force immediately. It brings the overall number of Russian military personnel to about 2.2 million, including 1.32 million troops.
It is the second such expansion of the army since 2018. The previous boost by 137,000 troops, ordered by Putin in August 2022, put the military’s numbers at about 2 million personnel and about 1.15 million troops.
The defence ministry said the order doesn’t imply any “significant expansion of conscription”, saying in a statement that the increase would happen gradually by recruiting more volunteers. The ministry cited what it called “the special military operation” in Ukraine and the expansion of Nato as the reasons for the increase.
Boosting Russian troops was an appropriate response to “the aggressive activities of the Nato bloc”, the ministry said.
Last December, Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, declared that the country needed a force of 1.5 million “to guarantee the fulfilment of tasks to ensure Russia’s security”. He did not say when the military would reach that size.
The Kremlin previously considered the size of its military as sufficient, but the calculus changed after hopes for a quick victory over its neighbour were shattered by fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Amid the continued hostilities, the size of Russian and Ukrainian military casualties remains uncertain. The Russian military has confirmed only just over 6,000 military casualties, but western estimates are much higher. In October, the UK defence ministry said Russia had “likely suffered 150,000 to 190,000 permanent casualties”, a number that included troops that have been killed or permanently wounded.
Russian authorities have undertaken various efforts to give a boost to the army. In August 2022, Putin ordered an increase in the size of the Russian military to 1.15 million starting from 1 January 2023. The following month, he ordered the mobilisation of 300,000 reservists to beef up his forces in Ukraine. That number is counted as part of the military’s current strength.
While Putin said there was no need to round up more, his mobilisation decree is open-ended, allowing the military to call up additional reservists when needed. That decree also banned volunteer soldiers from ending their contracts.
All across Russia’s vast territory, a campaign to entice more men to enlist has been under way for months, with advertisements promise cash bonuses, recruiters making cold calls to eligible men and enlistment offices working with universities and social service agencies to lure students and the unemployed.
Some media reports and rights groups say the Russian authorities also offer amnesty to prisoners in exchange for a tour of military duty.
These efforts come on top of the regular draft, which calls up about 120,000 to 140,000 men twice a year for a one-year tour of compulsory service. The authorities insist that those conscripted for mandatory service are not being deployed to Ukraine.
All Russian men aged 18 to 27 must serve one year in the military, but a large share avoid the draft for health reasons or deferments granted to university students. The share of men who avoid the draft is particularly large in Moscow and other major cities. This year, the authorities raised the upper age limit for mandatory service to 30, starting from 1 January.