New Orleans A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. A satellite shot of traffic backed up for miles at the border crossing between the Russian Federation and Georgia was dramatic evidence of the unpopularity of Vladmir Putin’s order activating reservists for his invasion and now protracted war against Ukraine. Whether the USA during Vietnam or Russia now, militarily the country and its leaders may be desperate for more men to throw into battle, but politically the late US President Lyndon Johnson may have a lesson for Russia’s Putin: it’s political suicide in unpopular foreign wars.
Russia’s problem seems even more difficult. This call up was technically for reservists, meaning former soldiers. The US has called up such reservists and National Guard members to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and, perhaps amazingly, suffered no such blowback. Though far, far away, the 9/11 attack and the notion that these conflicts were somehow even if mysteriously part of the defense of our national security, led to few questions on such activation. Yet, the stories about young men and their families fleeing to neighboring countries whether Turkey, Georgia, or others that don’t require visas are protests we didn’t see and indicate how unpopular the Ukrainian war is becoming, even among veteran soldiers in Russia.
We all need to be careful that we’re not swallowing war propaganda whole, which given the firm, leadership role that the American government has taken to protect Ukraine is always possible. Reports before the current conscription indicate that Russia was filling manpower needs with mercenaries and convicts. Some of this is undoubtedly true, since one of Putin’s buddies has spoken freely about his role in recruiting and outfitting mercenaries. Other reports indicate that Russia’s conscription efforts go far beyond reservists and have targeted minorities and others to fill the quota. This may or may not be true, but seems to have been possibly confirmed by Russian spokespeople admitting there have been problems in the call up. Attacks that have been confirmed on recruiting offices and recruiters speak to some of these problems being factual. Some reports indicate that this may be happening because the 300,000 is an “enormous undercount.”
Military experts believe the impact of this mass conscription could take several months to show an impact on the battlefield, but that’s because those experts believe that it will take some time to train and ready the new forces. Other reports indicate that these reservists are only being given two weeks training before being sent to the front. It’s not hard to see why some might rightly believe that they are simply cannon fodder.
Wars like these where untrained civilians are being conscripted in Ukraine to fight for their homeland against an army less than happy to be there, don’t tend to end well, so it’s hard to predict happy endings for Russia, despite their huge advantages, anymore than what the US experienced in Vietnam, where America enjoyed overwhelming odds by many measures.
Drafts are just not popular. Wars fought by the unwilling don’t end well for the countries mandating conscription. The situation in Ukraine now seems to be a tragedy stumbling towards chaos that might make the fog of war seem like a bright sunny day.