Russia has been saying that there is no war in Ukraine, just a "Special military operation". Their laws prohibit them from sending conscripts to military operations outside Russia. The war did not go the way they thought it would, and now they have a massive shortage of military personnel. They obviously need to deploy their conscripts, but they refuse to call it a war. Why do they not just declare war and send their conscripts to the war zone?
The Russian government has spent a lot of time explaining to their citizens (and to the rest of the world) that the war was no war. A sudden reversal needs to be explained, or credibility will be lost. Besides, Russia has already used conscripts. Obviously they find it easier to explain the death of conscripts on the frontline than to call a war a war.
The government of the Russian Federation does not declare war and announce general mobilization for the following reasons:
- Mobilization would increase domestic resistance. Even as is, there have been a number of "voenkomats" (military recruitment centers) set on fire (!) all over Russia.
- Mobilization would harm the economy and the living standards would fall, leading to popular unrest.
- Russian administrative system, unlike the Soviet system before it, may not be able to handle such a massive task.
- Newly recruited soldiers would be less likely to be well-trained and motivated.
But despite failing to achieve any of Russia’s strategic objectives in its all-out invasion of Ukraine in over four months, Putin has been reluctant to carry out mobilization.
Some experts suggest Putin may fear that mobilization would trigger domestic resistance, with large numbers of potential recruits evading the draft. He may also be wary of the devastating effect that it would have on Russia’s economy: thousands would be removed from the civilian sector and living standards would fall drastically.
Another potential fear is that Russia’s administrative system may not be able to handle such a tremendous task. Moreover, mobilization in Russia would likely entail a transition to an even more totalitarian system, and it may not prove so easy to transform Russia into North Korea.
Putin lacks troops in Ukraine but fears mobilization in Russia. By Oleg Sukhov. Kyiv Independent, July 5, 2022: https://kyivindependent.com/hot-topic/putin-lacks-troops-in-ukraine-but-fears-mobilization-in-russia
Russia is likely rapidly exhausting the manpower it can readily use to generate additional effective combat power even as its forces lose combat effectiveness in Ukraine amid high losses. Russian efforts to mobilize more manpower can bring more people into Russian combat units, but those people are unlikely to be well-enough trained or motivated to generate large amounts of new combat power.
Mobilization efforts are likely to start producing diminishing returns as Russia moves through the categories of fully-trained and recently-released reservists into categories of people further removed from their initial military experiences and/or those who will undergo hasty training before deployment to the front lines. Individual replacements for battlefield losses are unlikely to have the same training as their predecessors, and new units or those reinforced by these augmentees will not have undergone unit-level training prior to employment. More units and reservist replacements will likely appear in Ukraine, therefore, but the net effect on Russia’s actual combat capability will likely be small and diminishing.
A declaration of martial law and general mobilization would not overcome the structural challenges of Russia’s hybrid cadre-and-reserves and contract-soldier system. Creating cohesive fighting units cannot be accomplished overnight. Replacing individual combat casualties in Ukraine with recalled reservists who have gone years without military training is unlikely to dramatically increase Russian combat power.
Explainer on Russian Conscription, Reserve, and Mobilization. By Kateryna Stepanenko, Frederick W. Kagan, Brian Babcock-Lumish. Critical Threats, March 5, 2022: https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/explainer-on-russian-conscription-reserve-and-mobilization
The 2022 Russian mystery fires are a series of unusual fires and explosions that have occurred since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, which have not been formally explained. There have also been several notable arson attacks on military recruitment offices in Russia since the beginning of the war, and there has been speculation that some of the fires or explosions have been the result of sabotage efforts by Ukraine.
2022 Russian mystery fires. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2022_Russian_mystery_fires
A spate of recent fires in Russian cities has led some to speculate that the blazes may be linked to the war in Ukraine. Some of the fires have damaged military objectives while others have hit buildings unrelated to Russia's war infrastructure.
In Photos: Russia On Fire With Mystery Blazes. By RFE/RL, June 06, 2022: https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-fires-mystery-ukraine-conflict/31884503.html
When Russia started the war the predominant idea circulating on Russian propaganda channel and in fb/vk/twitter account of Russian politicians were:
- Ukraine has no chances to compete with our military might
- this will be a short operation and in 3 days everything will be conquered
- ordinary citizens in Russia will not be affected
Now it is clear that:
- a 'military might' is a joke. Before the war most of the people in the world would consider Russian army is second in the world, now the incompetency, corruption and outdatedness is visible even to people inside Russia
- what was planned to achieve in 3 days operation is not even close to being achieved after 143 days (and with a very very high probability never)
- ordinary person in Russia has hard problem leaving the country. The prices are increasing sharply even in Moscow, many of the brands disappear, the job market shortens
Declaring the war and conscripting people is not free. If Putin could have done it, he would already have done it long long time ago. But it has consequences, among them are:
- you clearly tell: I severely miscalculated the situations and now it is out of control
- ordinary person will bear consequences: it is one situation to sit and support fighting in front of a propaganda TV listening to how your amazing army conquers for the 10th time in a row the same village, and completely another to be sent to the front line
Apart from this mobilization is not similar to a computer game where when you need to get more army units, you click on barracks and buy 20k additional riflemen. There should be done a lot of preparation among which is:
- have a list of all people whom you can conscript (this is one of the reasons why many mobilization departments in Russia were set on fire: if the lists were burnt, people do not know whom to conscript)
- being able to send the conscription letters to all of them (knowing that those people do not want to get those letters)
- accommodate all the people and prepare them for the war. You need enough food/clothes/ammunition for each of the soldier.
- you need to transport them to a place where you will train them
- you need to train them as you can't get ten car mechanics give him a rifles and consider them a squad (you can but it will not survive for a long)
- to train you also need people who will train them and have various schedules who trains whom for how long and what is needed for training
- you need to have infrastructure what to do with people who would try to run away
- you need to move all the trained people to the war zone
I probably missed many other things you need to do. Russia showed that their logistics is terrible and they struggle to get proper equipment (mosin rifles from ww2, t62 tanks are not there to show military advancement). With a tremendous corruption it is not clear whether there is equipment for a mass mobilization.
Right now Putin's plan is to use hidden mobilization. People are enlisted using:
- threats. By telling that they will be treated as deserters, that they betrayed their country and their friends who are already fighting
- proposing very lucrative contracts: 4-5k per month (for many places in Russia you would be happy to earn 300$-500$ per month) and forgiveness of loans. Of course you need to survive to get the money
- proposing loan forgiveness and 7 mln rubles if you die in Ukraine. Of course military should confirm that you died in Ukraine and as right now Russia claims that they do not have losses and even sailors on Moscow cruiser just missed, it is a dubious proposition
- enlisting people from prisons in exchange for money and forgiveness of crime
- enlisting people from factories who lost their jobs
The war did not go the way they thought it would, and now they have a massive shortage of military personnel. They obviously need to deploy their conscripts,
This is not totally true. While the war may not go the way that Russia would like it to go and they have lost many soldiers and equipment it also hasn't been a complete failure on their side so far. In the last weeks they have gained territory in the Lugansk area and kept the South. They may think that they actually do not need conscription, which is always unpopular except maybe when defending yourself, and still be able to reach their objectives (whatever they are) within a reasonable time frame.
Indeed they currently try to recruit volunteers incentivized by promises of large cash bonuses or in case of prisoners acquittal of punishment. These recruits will only get minimal training and not be that valuable as professional soldiers but also casualties from them will probably result in lower backlash from the population.
Russia may simply think that conscription isn't needed yet because even with only volunteers they can still win the war and occupy more of Ukraine.
Should Russia not find sufficiently many "volunteers" they may use other methods to effectively conscript even without calling it conscription. Maybe calling in the reserves or something like that.
In September the situation must have changed, maybe because of previous gains of Ukraine around Charkiv, because then Russia did actually start drafting. However, they still did not need to declare war, because they declared an annexation of the occupied territories (including unoccupied territories of Donetzk or Kherson for example). This let's Russia use officially their conscripts in Ukraine but the draft is also deeply unpopular and the morale and level of training of the drafted units won't be very high.
And indeed now in February 23, the frontline has stabilized with even predictions of an upcoming Russian offensive. The partial mobilization of ~300000 Russians and additional half yearly conscription cycles generated enough manpower for at least continuing with the war from the Russian side. No formal declaration of war needed for that, but then again this is only a formality. For all practical purposes Ukraine and Russia are at war since the invasion of Crimea in 2014 (or at the latest since February 2022 but rather since earlier).
Why does Russia not declare war on Ukraine in order to incorporate their conscripts into the war?
Why do they not just declare war and send their conscripts to the war zone?
The premise of your questions is mistaken.
Even if war is declared, conscripts cannot be sent outside Russia.
Sergio Miller (2022):
Under the 23 June 1995 Federal Law No 93, conscripts are currently prohibited from serving outside the territory of the Russian Federation under any circumstances. Conscripts cannot even participate in peace-keeping missions. ...
The only service personnel legally permitted to deploy outside the territory of the Russian Federation are the professional officer and warrant officer classes, and the so-called kontraktniki (‘contract soldiers’) who sign three year contracts.