Russia: The Final Surge

Kremlin is loading up on manpower to compensate for dwindling equipment

Shankar Narayan
7 min readMay 18, 2024

President Vladimir Putin and his supporters in the West want us to believe that the Russian armed forces are so strong that, no matter how long it takes, there will be only one winner in this war, and that will be Moscow. They keep sending the message that their weapons production capacity is so robust that the West will never be able to match their pace of production.

Is that so?

Then why are Russian troops storming the front line on motorcycles, making them easy targets for Ukraine’s first-person view drone operators and snipers? A few months ago, infantry was being dropped at the front line after riding on top of tanks. Sometimes, they would go over a bump, a few Russian soldiers would fall off, and the tank would hit a grenade within seconds. Then came the open-top, made-in-China golf carts, which were used as one-way ferries to the front line.

The Russians have updated their transport mechanisms once again. Russian soldiers are now storming the front line on motorcycles. During the recent attack in the Kharkiv sector, Russian infantry mostly walked to the front line, mile after mile, on foot.

But hold on, why are we talking about golf carts and motorcycles? Where are the infantry fighting vehicles — the BMDs, BMPs, BTRs, and Kurganets-25? Oryx, a group of meticulous open-source investigators who document evidence of destroyed Russian and Ukrainian equipment, has revealed an important detail.

They have collected evidence of nearly 4,500 Russian infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers destoyed since February 2022.

Oryx only counts a loss or damage if there is visual evidence. This means the actual numbers would be far higher.

If Russia has so many vehicles in storage…..

If Russia is producing so many new vehicles…..

Then why would they send their infantry without any means to protect themselves from enemy fire? Will any professional army in the world do this?

You cannot say they are ready to do whatever it takes, because that is not the case. The generals at the top are more than happy to pile up the body count.

Golf Cart ride on the left (Credit: Sashakots). Motorcycle troops on the right (Credit: Russian State Media)

The Russian army is running out of tanks and armored vehicles that can be refurbished. Nearly 80% of the heavy weapons arriving at the front line are not new builds; they are refurbished units. The current production rate of tanks is around 100 units per month, most of which are refurbished. If tanks are being produced at this rate, the state of armored personnel carriers cannot be much better.

According to IISS estimates, Russia had around 8,000 armored vehicles at the start of the war. Data from Oryx and other sources lead me to believe that the Russians are losing around 3,000 vehicles annually.

  • 3,000 units per year.
  • We are in the third year.
  • Russians are precariously close to running out.

To complicate matters further, the personnel strength of Russian troops on the ground has increased from less than 200,000 at the start of the war to 360,000 in 2023 and nearly 500,000 now.

All of this adds up nicely.

What options do you have when sitting in the Kremlin and receiving reports that you are depleting your heavy weapons at an alarming rate? There is only one way out: increase the number of infantry and keep throwing them into battle.

Overwhelm the field with sheer number of humans.

This was one of the methods through which, the chief of Wagner mercenaries, Prigohzin, secured Bakhmut. He would send wave after wave of Russian convicts to the frontline, without concern for their survival. Ukrainian defenders in the city had no choice but to fire at the incoming waves of men, exposing their positions. Then, artillery shells would be lobbed at the identified Ukrainian positions. Occasionally, fighter jets would join in the assault. Afterward, there would be a few more waves to further exhaust the frontline Ukrainian position. Finally, after wearing down the Ukrainian defenders, the trained Wagner troops would appear.

80% meat. 20% well trained troops.

A grinding advance with no respect for Russian lives.

The Kremlin is now exporting this Bakhmut strategy to all parts of the frontline. They are betting that any shortages on the weapons front can be compensated for using the human quotient. Sadly, it will work in parts and certainly as long as the Russian economy is able to withstand the relentless drawdown of men from the workforce.

The Russian army is weakening by the day. They are reverting to the Soviet doctrine, seeking to overwhelm the other side by relying on their ability to fill cemeteries endlessly. Ukraine should counter this by taking the fight deeper into the occupied territory. There are a few things they must do to exploit the weakness of the Russian forces.

Ukraine is coming out of a trough. They need to go through a brief transition period before reaching the plains. Russia on its part will do what ever it can to make sure that Ukraine’s combat power does not stablize and then rise beyond theirs.

Considering the state the Russians are in, relying on manpower to compensate for equipment shortages, this period of transition is their best opportunity to prevent Ukraine from gaining the upper hand. The incoming F16s, artillery shells, and the new mobilization drive will significantly enhance Ukraine’s combat capabilities, pushing them to a different level. I believe Ukraine will require two to three months to develop the necessary combat power to seize the initiative.

The challenge facing Ukraine is: How will they manage the infantry-heavy Russian armed forces over the next three months?

Do Not Lose Manpower: The first requirement and the most important one of all will be to minimize casualties. If they suffer significant losses, it will expand their transition period. They must conserve manpower.

Strategic Retreats and Defense: Ukraine cannot achieve a decisive victory during this period of transition. They should opt for a strategy of strategic retreats and defensive operations, focusing on protecting key territories and infrastructure while conserving thier resources until an opportunity for a more favorable outcome presents itself.

Focus on Efficiency: Since Ukraine has sophisticated weapons but limited manpower, they should prioritize maximizing the efficiency of their military operations. This entails investing in training, tactics, and technology to optimize the utilization of their constrained resources. Precision strikes, intelligence gathering, and rapid deployment can serve to offset Russia’s numerical advantage.

Target Supply Lines: Ukraine must disrupt and destroy Russian supply lines, targeting their weapons stockpiles and cutting off their ability to sustain their military efforts. This could involve airstrikes on weapon depots, sabotage missions, covert operations, long-range attacks and drone strikes.

Economic Warfare: Ukraine must utilize its drones to restrict Russia’s revenue, weakening its ability to sustain its military efforts and forcing it to divert resources away from the war.

This is extremely important. The appointment of an economist as the head of Russia’s defense ministry was not an easy decision; it was disruptive. If Russia felt comfortable about the money on hand, they would have never taken such a risk. From discussing overwhelming the West with sheer production, now the Kremlin is emphasizing innovation to achieve victory.

The Kremlin is already feeling the pinch. Ukraine’s drone attacks on the refineries place a huge amount of stress on the Kremlin’s stretched-out budget. Western sanctions have utterly failed to apply the brakes on the Russian economy. Ukrainian drones are the only means to impose a heavy cost on the Russian war economy.

While Russia can likely continue the war for some time using existing stockpiles, their ability to do so indefinitely seems doubtful. The data suggests that a tipping point might be reached sooner than later, forcing them to adapt their strategy or potentially bring the conflict to an end.

why do I think this is Russia’s final surge?

The Russians have now fielded a half a million strong army. How much have they advanced in May 2024? From losing one thousand Russians on the battlfield every day at the start of the year, they are now settling down at 1,500 Russians.

500 per day in 2022. They are now three times that.

In 2022, they had more than $150 billion in their rainy day fund. The liquid part of that fund is now almost gone. The Russian economy has been under stress for two years. If Putin wants to sustain his force capacity at the current level, he must recruit 1,500 soldeirs to keep his lines stable.

You cannot continue at this rate.

If Ukraine plays this transition period well, the next three months will be Russia’s final troop surge.

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Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.