Russia boosts size of armed forces by 170,000 troops

President Putin’s decree takes number of Russian service personnel to 1.32 million amid continuing Ukraine war.

Russian servicemen
Servicemen line up at a military unit in the Leningrad region of Russia on September 22, 2023 [File: Anton Vaganov/Reuters]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the country’s military to increase the maximum number of troops by nearly 170,000 people, as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine continues into its 22nd month.

Putin’s decree was released by the Kremlin on Friday and took force immediately. It brings the strength of the armed forces to 1.32 million service personnel and increases the overall number of Russian military personnel to about 2.2 million.

“The increase in the full-time strength of the armed forces is due to the growing threats to our country associated with the special military operation and the ongoing expansion of NATO,” the Russian Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

It said the order does not imply any “significant expansion of conscription”, and that the increase would happen gradually by recruiting more volunteers.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said on Friday that more than 452,000 people were recruited to the military under contract from January 1 to December 1, 2023.

NATO’s “joint armed forces are being built up near Russia’s borders and additional air defence systems and strike weapons are being deployed. The potential of NATO’s tactical nuclear forces is being increased,” the ministry statement read.

Boosting Russian troops was an appropriate response to “the aggressive activities of the NATO bloc”, the ministry added.

This is the second such expansion of the army since 2018. The previous boost of 137,000 troops, ordered by Putin in August 2022, put the military’s numbers at about two million personnel and about 1.15 million troops.

Last December, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu declared that the country needed a force of 1.5 million “to guarantee the fulfilment of tasks to ensure Russia’s security”. He didn’t say when the military would reach that size.

The Kremlin previously considered the size of its military as sufficient, but the calculus changed after hopes for a quick victory over Ukraine – which Russia invaded in February 2022 – were shattered by fierce resistance.

Russia had undertaken various efforts to give a boost to its army – including drafting conscripts, mobilising reservists, forming volunteer battalions and running campaigns to entice more men to enlist.

Some media reports and rights groups say the Russian authorities have also offered amnesty to some prisoners in exchange for a tour of military duty.

All Russian men from age 18 to 27 (or age 18-30 starting on January 1, 2024) must serve one year in the military. However, a large number avoid the draft for health reasons or deferments granted to university students.

Source: News Agencies