The Russian government is poised to enact legislation that can force companies to supply the country’s military and demand employees work overtime in an effort to help rebuild an arsenal that’s been depleted after nearly five months of war in Ukraine.
While the country moves to mobilize its factories, a recruitment drive is also underway for workers who can help rebuild the ruinous areas where Russia has already claimed victory.
Russia has seen some military success in recent weeks with the capture of Lysychansk, which now gives it complete control over all of Luhansk, a region in Eastern Ukraine that was partly controlled by Russian-backed separatists prior to the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
But Russia’s bloody conquest has come at a great cost to its own military, both in lives and equipment.
Open-source investigation finds heavy losses
According to an open-source investigation that analyzed images posted online, Russia has lost thousands of tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, which have either been destroyed, damaged, abandoned or captured.
“It’s starting to show its impact because Russia started the initial offensive with a lot of relatively modern tanks, and gradually they have been replacing them with equipment that is 30, 40 years old and now even older,” said Jakub Janovsky, who collaborated on a recent open-source investigation.
Janovsky, who lives in the Czech Republic, works in telecommunications. But in his spare time, he logs on to his computer and — with other online investigators — tracks military equipment deployed in Ukraine. They scan social media for images and record the individual pieces of equipment in a database.
He previously did the same with military campaigns in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
Janovsky and his peers catalogue vehicles and aircraft only if they can find images of the individual pieces of equipment, and their recent report notes that the true losses are likely “significantly higher.”
In an interview with CBC News, he said it was “ridiculous” to hear Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaim on July 7 that Russia hasn’t yet “started anything” in earnest in Ukraine.
“If they continue to lose troops and equipment in Ukraine, there won’t be any Russian army left there,” Janovsky said.
Kremlin stresses importance of bills
Given how many of its military vehicles have been destroyed or damaged, Janovsky said it isn’t surprising that Russia would want to pass legislation to compel factories and workers to produce more equipment.
Two pieces of legislation are making their way through Russia’s parliament.
The first bill, which would require companies to fulfil defence contracts, has passed through both the lower and upper houses of parliament. The other bill would make a change to the labour code requiring employees to work overtime. It’s still waiting for approval from the upper house. Both pieces of legislation will have to be approved by Putin.
When the bills were introduced, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said the importance of adopting them could not be overstated, considering that the “collective West is building up their military presence on Russia’s border.”
Even if the proposed legislation is signed into law by Putin, Pavel Luzin, an expert on international relations and the country’s military who is based in Saint Petersburg, said he’s skeptical that the laws will be enough to rebuild the military or mobilize the population.
In an analysis piece written for Riddle, an online publication about political issues in Russia, Luzin predicts that it would take a minimum of four years to restore Russia’s armoured vehicle capacity to where it was before the invasion and 10 years to replenish its stockpile of missiles.
In a press release on July 3, Ukraine’s Defence Ministry claimed that it was becoming increasingly hard for Russia to get tanks and other combat vehicles repaired at factories due to ongoing tension between the Russian government and the factory owners.
Ukraine claims that business owners have instructed their employees not to accept the equipment because the factories don’t have enough parts to repair the vehicles and they aren’t being paid enough to fix them. CBC News has not been able to verify any of these claims.
In an email to CBC News, Luzin said he believes that if enacted, the new laws won’t be enough to bring all businesses and workers onboard.
“Russian society is stressed and demoralized,” he wrote, suggesting that some will not go out of their way to help the Kremlin even if “it tries to force people to support its aggression.”
Russia recruiting workers
While Russia is mobilizing industry, it’s also recruiting workers to rebuild devastated Ukrainian cities, such as Mariupol, which are now under Russian occupation.
Online job postings boast of high pay and try to appeal to a sense of patriotism.
One ad, which targets workers living throughout Russia, promises that teams will work to “restore” Donetsk and Luhansk — part of the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine — this fall and guarantees meals, transportation and free overalls.
Another ad, when translated into English, reads: “Brigades for the restoration of Mariupol” and promises an advanced payment of 50,000 rubles ( $1,040 Cdn) and an additional 3,500 rubles ( $73 Cdn).
It states that minibuses with workers leave from Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, each week destined for the Donbas region.
The city lies about 120 kilometres from Ukraine’s border.
Tatiana Sporisheva, an auditor and activist who lives in Rostov-on-Don, told CBC News that many in the city feel the war is creeping closer to their community, and she doesn’t know anyone who is keen to sign up for the work.
“It is quite possible that there will probably be people who will go to make money. But there will be a minority of such people,” she wrote in a conversation over a messaging app with CBC News.
Instead, she believes people will be pressured by authorities into going to Eastern Ukraine.
Sporisheva said there has been talk of teachers being recruited to go to the Donbas, and a Russian Telegram channel called “We are together,” translated into English, promotes student groups and psychologists volunteering in the region.
The channel has posted several photos of Russian teams handing out aid and working in classrooms.
In a post on Monday, the account praised a student group for handing out food packages, including baby food, to residents in Luhansk.
At the bottom, the post reads, in Russian, “#wedontabandonourown” and “#For the President.”