War devours soldiers: “Sooner or later the problem will be central”

The war in the middle of Europe rages on. It has been more than a year and a half since Russian President Vladimir Putin had his soldiers march into Ukraine. There is still no winner, no trend as to who will prevail in this war of aggression.

With every day that the war lasts longer, the probability of being drafted into the military increases. At least for male Ukrainians between 18 and 60 years old.

Not everyone wants that. Not everyone has a military background. Some are opposed to conscription and want to buy their way out of military service. They go to doctors or authorities.

Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an evening video speech a few days ago that some paid between $3,000 and $15,000 in bribes to get out of conscription.

Selenskyj cracks down on those who refuse to fight the war

He wants to have cases investigated in which men were decommissioned for alleged unfitness for service and there is suspicion of bribery payments.

The “systematic corruption in the medical release of conscientious objectors” must be ended. At the beginning of August, the Ukrainian President had already fired all the heads of the regional recruitment offices.

For Stefan Meister from the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), the strict approach against corruption in the decommissioning of soldiers is an understandable step.

“Of course, Ukraine has a smaller population than Russia and is therefore in a weaker position in terms of the number of soldiers,” he told FOCUS online. Meister focuses on Russian domestic, foreign and security policy.

“There are men who want to avoid war”

He stresses that unlike Russia, Ukraine is fully mobilized. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country and can be drafted into the army at any time.

Many join the army voluntarily to fight against the invaders. But not all. The fact that some Ukrainians want to buy their freedom from military service “seems normal to me,” says Meister.

Alexander Libman, a political scientist specializing in Eastern Europe at the Freie Universität Berlin, sees it similarly. “Of course there are men who want to avoid war. Little is said about it,” he told FOCUS online.

It is not known how many Ukrainians have been called up since the beginning of the war. A year ago, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maljar estimated the number at several hundred thousand.

Because of the losses at the front, new recruits have to be trained and sent into battle again and again. According to the Ukrainian leadership, it is preparing further convocations for the defensive fight against Russia.

“Sooner or later this problem will be central”

Zelenskyj’s decision to fight corruption more vigorously when recruiting potential soldiers has been criticized by some as too strict, too authoritarian. But maybe he has no other choice.

Because more and more the question arises whether Ukraine will run out of soldiers in the long run. Whether it will come to that is difficult to predict, says Libman. “It is clear that men are a scarce resource,” he says.

“Both Ukraine and Russia are modern societies with very low birth rates and mostly modern, urban populations. Sooner or later this problem will be central.”

Master of the DGAP is more optimistic. “Although the ongoing corruption is also a problem in Ukraine, we see that more soldiers are being trained, the territorial defense continues to function and there are also many women fighting in the Ukrainian army.”

In his eyes, Ukraine will come under pressure if Russia also moves to full mobilization of the population. However, the political scientist considers the Ukrainian army to be significantly more motivated than the Russian one.

Eventually the men fought for their homeland, their homes. “I don’t therefore assume that Ukraine will run out of soldiers – rather of ammunition and weapons.”

The importance of Crimea for the war

A look at the battlefield shows that the Ukrainians are working their way up tenaciously. According to its own statements, the army has broken through several Russian defense lines in the southern region of Zaporizhia.

They continue to advance towards the occupied cities of Tokmak and Melitopol. A special focus is on Crimea. The soldiers want to advance to the Sea of ​​Azov and at least partially interrupt the land connection to Crimea.

Since the start of the summer offensive in June, Ukraine has stepped up its attacks on the Black Sea Peninsula. The targets of the attacks were ammunition and fuel depots, military equipment, bridges and railroad connections.

Crimea has not only a symbolic meaning for Russia and Ukraine, but also a military and power-political one, says political scientist Meister from the DGAP.

“The actually important offensive will not come until next year”

Western observers agree that Russia uses the peninsula to transport soldiers, ammunition and equipment. “The Kremlin also controls large parts of the Black Sea via Crimea and can weaken Ukraine economically,” says Meister.

The expert suspects that Ukraine will still see some smaller gains in terrain before the rainy season. But he doesn’t expect the big breakthrough. “I’m assuming that the actually important offensive will not come until next year.”

From his point of view, several questions will become important in the coming weeks. “Whether Ukraine will succeed in advancing to the Sea of ​​Azov and weakening Russia and the role of Crimea,” says Meister.

The political scientist also believes that the West’s willingness to continue supplying weapons and ammunition is key. Military experts are convinced that without Western weapons, Ukraine would have lost the war against Russia long ago.

Libman considers two points to be crucial

Libman agrees. In the medium term, “how the resources develop on both sides” is decisive for the course of the war, he says. By “resources” the political scientist means Western arms supplies, supplies to soldiers and, as far as Russia is concerned, goods from China and other countries.

According to US intelligence services, the Middle Kingdom supplies Russia with military technology and so-called dual-use goods that can also be used for military operations. That goes from a late July published report out.

Combat readiness is also important, Libman said. “How long does a regime – or in democracies, the citizens – still want war, when are the costs too high, the goals no longer attractive?”

Wagner, Putin and the Russian regime

But Putin’s power appears to have been consolidated. Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigoshin can no longer be dangerous to him. He died in a plane crash that the Kremlin wants nothing to do with.

However, the Russian president is not invulnerable. “Putin’s authority could quickly be undermined if the course of the war for the Russian army in Ukraine were to be disadvantageous or even disastrous,” says Gerhard Mangott in an interview with FOCUS online.

The professor at the University of Innsbruck deals, among other things, with international relations and security research in the post-Soviet space. Ukraine is increasingly in a bind, he says.

“They should at least take Tokmak before the mud season and winter come. If this does not succeed, the pressure on the Ukrainian leadership to engage in negotiations with Russia is likely to increase.”

Jean Harris

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