The Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine might not be going according to plan, but Russian troops fighting in Ukraine are at least making six figures.
The war and the need for new troops have made service in the Russian armed forces one of the most lucrative professions in the country.
However, the heavy attrition means that not many young Russian soldiers will enjoy their hefty salaries for long.
Make big bucks fighting for Putin
When the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, Russian junior officers were making just over 81,000 rubles (about $900) a month. A few months later, in October 2022, because of the conflict’s deteriorating status pay increased for Russian troops, with pay for the most junior troops starting at about 195,000 rubles ($2,100) a month.
“It is highly likely that the salary and additional benefits are a strong incentive for personnel to join up, especially to those from the poorer areas of Russia. However, Russia is still unlikely to meet its targets for recruiting volunteers to the ranks,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in a recent estimate of the war.
Today, the most junior Russian troops receive over 200,000 rubles (slightly over $2,100) a month. This sum is almost three times larger than the average Russian national salary, which is about 73,000 rubles ($765) a month.
In comparison, junior enlisted personnel in the U.S. military make between $23,000 and $30,000 a year while the U.S. average salary is around $59,000.
To be sure, U.S. military personnel get a lot of indirect bonuses, such as grocery and housing allowances. But even with these bonuses, Russian military pay is levels higher than that of American troops in the context of their respective economies.
This paradox is a result of the most serious force generation issues that plague the Russian military.
Russian force generation woes
Russia went to war with about 190,000 men. More than 19 months later, the Russian forces have suffered between 260,000 and 300,000 casualties, according to estimates by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and the Pentagon. These devastating losses, coupled with the precarious situation on the battlefield, have imposed immense manpower demands on the Russian military.
The Kremlin has tried several different solutions, some more extreme than others. In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin called up a partial mobilization. About 300,000 reservists swelled the ranks of the Russian forces; however, the mobilization created such panic in Russian society that more than one million military-aged males fled the country to avoid the draft.
Then, Putin turned to the infamous Wagner Group. The Kremlin gave Yevgeny Prigozhin, the now-late leader of the private military company, the green light to recruit from Russia’s vast penal colonies. In total, the mercenary group recruited more than 40,000 convicts in the span of a few months. However, Wagner suffered horrendous losses, and the Wagner Group camps in Belarus are now out of favor and without leadership following Prigozhin’s death.
The ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive is stretching the Russian forces. In response, the Russian Ministry of Defense is having to relocate troops from quieter parts of the battlefield to where the Ukrainian forces are making the most progress, namely, in the western Zaporizhzhia Oblast and Bakhmut in the Donbas. Moscow is using elite units, including Spetsnaz special operations forces and VDV paratroopers, as firefighters in critical sectors of the battlefield. However, with about 500 men killed, wounded, or captured a day the Kremlin can’t keep up with the attrition, and will soon have to call up more men.
With a failing campaign and extremely heavy attrition, even the most lucrative financial incentives won’t generate enough forces on their own.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct a mistaken date from “October 2023” to “October 2022” in the second section.
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