In Moscow, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is pursuing a reform that is bound to have profound repercussions not only on the armed forces but on Russian society as a whole. The plan calls for two new military districts, one in Moscow, the other in St. Petersburg; an army corps in the Republic of Karelia, on the border with Finland; and military self-sufficiency for the four Ukrainian regions that Russia claims it annexed by a decree by Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin in September: Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
To achieve these goals, Shoigu intends to increase the number of soldiers on active duty from 1 million to 1.5 million by changing the rules for the draft. All of this is set to take place over the next three years.
The main lines of the reform were discussed on Wednesday with the army chief of staff, Valery Gerasimov, and the commander of the Eastern district, Rustam Muradov, during the minister’s inspection of the headquarters of the “Vostok” battle group on Ukrainian territory. This is his second visit to the front after the one in July.
Shoigu said: “We can ensure the security of our country and the new regions only by strengthening the key structures of the army.” One may conclude that his plan involves new investments in the navy, aerospace forces and the nuclear branch.
The discussion comes at a decisive moment in the war in Ukraine. Last week, Russian president Vladimir Putin changed the operational command structure, putting Gerasimov in charge. The intelligence apparatus in Kyiv believes that Gerasimov has been ordered to finalize the conquest of the Donbass by March. In recent weeks, the Russians appear to have succeeded in compromising one of the lines of defense the Ukrainians have built in the eastern part of the country.
On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that it had gained full control of Soledar, a mining town halfway between the territory of Lugansk and Donetsk that has been at the center of violent fighting with thousands of casualties. However, as things stand, the Russians don’t seem to be able to meet the alleged March deadline.
Many are expecting that Putin will pass a new mobilization order that is expected to bring in 500,000 more reservists, after the 300,000 mobilized in the fall. However, his spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, has said that no such announcement is planned.
Peskov also provided a political reading of the reform that Shoigu is working on: “The decision to increase the number of troops is dictated by the proxy conflict that the West is conducting against Russia,” a conflict which, Peskov claimed, “includes several elements: direct and indirect participation in hostilities, economic warfare, financial warfare, legal warfare, and so on.” In short, besides Ukraine, Russia’s top leadership seems to be engaged in a deep work of militarizing Russia, with a view to a long confrontation with Europe and the United States. This work necessarily involves reform of the military and an ever-broader marshaling of citizens into the mechanisms of the armed forces.
In just a few months, Putin and his radical elite seem to have succeeded in permanently blocking the development of a liberal character for Russian society, which, in spite of contradictions and difficulties, it had seemed to have embraced. That historical phase ended with the war in Ukraine.
There is another sign that confirms this trend: on Wednesday, Putin submitted to the Duma the draft of a bill to denounce all international treaties Russia was a part of as a member of the Council of Europe. The text is already on the desk of Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodyn. Russia had joined the Council of Europe in 1996. It was suspended and expelled in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine. In September, Moscow also withdrew from the European Convention on Human Rights.