The recent slow withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border could have less to do with a lessening of tensions than it does with the Russian military’s reliance upon conscription.
Russian conscripts serve for only one year within the military before being allowed to return to civilian life. This consistent turnover makes it difficult for the Kremlin to maintain a long-standing well-trained force as soldiers are constantly rotated out as the next round of conscripts comes in.
This rotation of conscripts is likely one cause of Russia’s recent drawdown from the Ukrainian border. According to Pavel Felgenhauer, writing for Foreign Policy, “April 1 … marks the beginning of the Russia’s spring conscript call-up, when some 130,000 troops drafted a year earlier will have to be mustered out as replacements arrive.”
Felgenhauer notes that it would be possible to keep conscripts for only a few months longer than their contracts called for — but that would run the risk of a drastic slip in morale as soldiers overstayed their expected conscription period.
Meanwhile, the arriving batch of Russian conscripts will have had limited training, reducing their battle effectiveness.
The incoming round of conscripts will serve within Russian airborne units, marines, and army brigades.
Putin likely realises that the incoming conscripts are in need of training. The Russian military’s manpower might be better spent getting their next group of soldiers battle-ready than in using them as a threatening shadow along Ukraine’s border. Besides, Russia has already caused considerable destabilization in eastern Ukraine through the use of irregulars and Chechen militiamen.
Recent reforms have attempted to shift Russia’s military away from a conscription force towards one consisting of “contract-employed” soldiers. These reforms have been slow, and the Russian military still relies heavily on conscripts to fill its ranks.
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