Following a Russian presidential decree from last week which ordered the defense ministry to beef up military ranks to over 2 million troops, US intelligence officials are saying that Moscow is desperate for manpower after heavy casualties during six months of the invasion of Ukraine.
US intelligence has reportedly assessed that Russia is currently grappling with "severe manpower shortages" - according to a new American intelligence finding disclosed Wednesday, also as it seeks to tap new sources of military hardware replenishment by turning to countries like Iran.
The Moscow Times reported last week of Putin's new decree, "As part of the changes [to military numbers], the total number of military and civilian staff in the Russian Armed Forces will increase from 1.9 million to nearly 2.04 million."
"The increase will only come from adding new soldiers — not new civilian employees — meaning that the total number of soldiers will rise by 137,000 to 1.15 million," the report continued, saying numbers will rise to this new level by the start of next year.
It's unclear if the fresh US intelligence assessment is largely basing its own estimates on this move, but according to the Associated Press, the Kremlin is gearing up to take some extreme measures:
Russia is looking to address the shortage of troops in part by compelling soldiers wounded earlier in the war to return to combat, recruiting personnel from private security companies and even recruiting from prisons, according to a U.S. official who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity to discuss the downgraded intelligence finding.
The official added that the intelligence community has determined that one step that Russia's Defense Ministry is expected to take soon is recruiting convicted criminals to enlist "in exchange for pardons and financial compensation."
Casualty figures on both the Russian and Ukrainian sides have been shrouded in secrecy and the fog of war, but also distorted or hidden by propaganda.
The US DoD's undersecretary for policy Colin Kahl said in an early August briefing that Russia sustained huge losses especially during the invasion's opening months.
"There's a lot of fog in war, but I think it's safe to suggest that the Russians have probably taken 70 or 80,000 casualties in the less than six months," Kahl said. "Now, that is a combination of killed in action and wounded in action and that number might be a little lower, a little higher, but I think that's kind of in the ballpark."
Ukraine has also been accused of implementing unorthodox measures to keep up troop numbers on the frontlines - for example letting criminals out of prison early in order to serve in the armed forces. But regarding all these allegations applied to both sides, the question of firm evidence and the extent of these practices are a reality (and not just more wartime propaganda) remains mostly a huge unknown.