Russian Volunteers Refusing to Fight as Forces Perform Poorly: Pentagon

Vladimir Putin has a tough task replenishing depleted troop numbers in his invasion of Ukraine because their poor response to Kyiv's counteroffensive is putting off potential recruits, a Pentagon official has said.

The assessment comes as the Kremlin faces a challenging decision about whether to announce general mobilization, following a retreat from more than 3,000 miles of previously occupied territory in Ukraine's northeast Kharkiv region, as well as huge troop losses.

The unnamed official said a high number of Russian casualties has meant that the Kremlin is "increasingly straining to find new recruits to fill out their thin ranks."

"The Russians are performing so poorly that the news from Kharkiv province has inspired many Russian volunteers to refuse combat," the official said, according to a report published by the Defense Department.

The official referred to a social media video showing a representative from the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor, trying to convince Russian prisoners to join the war. Britain's defense ministry last week assessed Wagner had been trying to recruit Russian convicts for service since at least July.

Russian soldiers
Russian soldiers patrol at the Mariupol drama theatre, bombed last March 16, on April 12, 2022 in Mariupol, in an image taken during a trip organized by the Russian military. A Pentagon official has said on September 19, 2022 that Russia is struggling to find volunteers for its invasion of Ukraine. ALEXANDER NEMENOV//Getty Images

"We believe this is part of Wagner's campaign to recruit over 1,500 convicted felons," the Pentagon official said, "but many are refusing."

The official said Wagner had been suffering high losses in Ukraine, "especially and unsurprisingly among young and inexperienced fighters."

Newsweek contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment.

Last week, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, said local officials in Russia had been tasked with generating manpower numbers to join the invading forces in Ukraine. These initiatives are thought to have included the targeting of homeless people in St. Petersburg.

Russian military academies are shortening training courses, while the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russia had even begun recruiting sick and injured soldiers from hospitals.

Russian military bloggers, who the ISW said Putin was trying to appease, are among the pro-Kremlin figures who have called for full mobilization, but this is likely to be hugely unpopular in the biggest cities, and will be seen as an admission of failure of the Kremlin's stated operational goals.

Meanwhile, as reports grow of demoralized Russian soldiers abandoning their equipment and posts in Ukraine, Russian lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday that could see soldiers jailed for up to 10 years for desertion.

Ukraine's military, by contrast, is high in morale as it continues to make gains in its counteroffensive. Last week, Ukrainian MP Kira Rudik told Newsweek the spirit among them was so high that many Ukrainian troops insisted on fighting despite having been granted days off by their commanders.