Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Why Is Putin Dodging the Draft?

The Russian leader is resisting calls for mass conscription amid his military’s costly quagmire in Ukraine.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy, and , a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
A person in a military uniform is seen in front of a destroyed building.
A person in a military uniform is seen in front of a destroyed building.
A Russian service member patrols a destroyed residential area in the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine, on July 12. Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Before we start, let’s take a look back on the life and legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, who died at the age of 91 this week. And don’t forget his legacy involves Pizza Hut.

Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: Russia has a numbers problem in Ukraine, Europe faces a mounting energy crisis, and AUKUS may be a drag on the expansion of the U.S. submarine fleet.

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Before we start, let’s take a look back on the life and legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, who died at the age of 91 this week. And don’t forget his legacy involves Pizza Hut.

Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: Russia has a numbers problem in Ukraine, Europe faces a mounting energy crisis, and AUKUS may be a drag on the expansion of the U.S. submarine fleet.

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.


Dodge Draft, Dip, Dive, and Dodge

By almost all accounts, Russia is hemorrhaging its manpower in Ukraine. Its military has suffered some 80,000 casualties, including killed and wounded, and Western officials suggest Moscow won’t be able to win the war it started with its current numbers.

As the Kremlin increasingly frames Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine as a fight for Russia’s survival against the West, hard-line politicians in Russia are calling for a draft.

So far, though, Putin is resisting those calls. SitRep has heard from numerous U.S. and Western officials who say they are puzzled by Putin’s reluctance to call for mass conscription at this point in the war. Despite its smaller size, Ukraine’s military seems to have all the advantages in the war—better training, higher morale, a steady supply of high-end Western military equipment—except in sheer numbers.

Putin’s political conundrum. Last week, Putin signed off on a plan to expand the number of active-duty Russian military service members by 137,000, but he appears intent on doing so through new recruitment drives—and even possibly recruiting convicted criminals to join the fight—rather than mass conscription. The Kremlin has a much larger pool of young men to draft into service to try to turn the tide of the war in its favor. So why hasn’t Putin called for a draft yet?

The domestic front. One working theory is that the Russian leader realizes how precarious public support for the war really is, especially now that it has spiraled into a much longer and costlier operation than Putin initially planned. A draft could expose wider public backlash to the war. A sizable number of young Russian men are reportedly seeking to avoid military service altogether.

Supply-side economics. Another theory is that Russia’s military simply doesn’t have enough equipment to support large-scale conscription, given how much military equipment it has already lost in Ukraine and sweeping international sanctions hampering Russia’s defense industry from making up for the losses.

Don’t take it Khersonally. The debate comes against the backdrop of a new Ukrainian military offensive aimed at recapturing the Russian-occupied Kherson region, north of Crimea. The offensive has sparked fierce fighting, but Ukrainian forces are slowly advancing into the region.

The United States believes that Ukraine is much closer to parity in troop numbers in Kherson compared with in the Donbas, a senior U.S. military official told reporters this week, and the offensive has already succeeded in destroying most of the strategic bridges in the region.

Critical mass. All this has led to a strange political phenomenon in Russia: For most people, openly criticizing the government is as dangerous as ever, but hard-line nationalist politicians and pro-war commentators have started openly criticizing Putin for not going far enough to bring victory in Ukraine by avoiding the draft.

Aleksandr Borodai, a vocal proponent of the war in the Russian State Duma and former leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, told the New York Times that he wanted a draft of anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000 soldiers. That number would be far higher than the Kremlin’s planned expansion. “The situation is such that we are often going on the offensive when there are fewer of us and more of the enemy,” he said. “This is causing the war to drag out.”


Let’s Get Personnel

The Biden administration plans to create a new Arctic envoy position, as Politico reports, though it has yet to announce the new ambassador.


On the Button 

What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.

Missing mojo. Western diplomats used to have a begrudging respect for their Russian counterparts. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, that has all changed, Western officials told us this week.

These days, Russian diplomats are peddling the same conspiracy theories coming out of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine and seem to have little say or agency in their government’s actual foreign policy, making them difficult to deal with, if not wholly irrelevant, in the eyes of Western diplomats. (For what it’s worth, the Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to our request for comment on this story.)

Winter is coming. And it’s making Europe pretty nervous, as it deals with an energy crisis fueled by its overreliance on Russian energy sources and the knock-on effects of climate change. As our colleague Christina Lu reports, things are going to get worse before they get better, with European governments scrambling for new energy supplies in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

AUKUS fracas. Getting Australia new nuclear submarines may be a major burden for already tapped-out U.S. shipyards. That’s according to U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Scott Pappano, the Navy’s program executive officer for strategic submarines, who was asked at a webinar last week if the AUKUS alliance—between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—could hamper U.S. submarine plans.

“If you are asking my opinion, if we were going to add additional submarine construction to our industrial base, that would be detrimental to us right now, without significant investment to provide additional capacity, capability to do that,” Pappano said.


Snapshot 

Tanks are seen on a street.
Tanks are seen on a street.

Service workers remove tanks, vehicles, and other Russian military equipment destroyed by Ukrainian forces, on display in Kyiv to commemorate Ukraine’s 31st Independence Day, on Aug. 26.Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images


Put on Your Radar

Thursday, Sept. 1: France assumes the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council for the next month.

Friday, Sept. 2: Brazil holds a second debate for its presidential candidates.

Thursday, Sept. 8: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is set to lead a multinational meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.


Quote of the Week

“A lot of people think that when you walk into my office, I have confidential documents spread out all over my floor … like a slob, like I’m sitting there reading these documents. … They put them there in a messy fashion, and they took a picture.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump responds to the picture of classified documents strewn messily across the floor at his Mar-a-Lago resort after an FBI raid last month. 


FP’s Most Read This Week

Why Can’t Sweden Sell Its Fighter Jets? by Elisabeth Braw

International Relations Theory Suggests Great-Power War Is Coming by Matthew Kroenig

Where Does the Ukraine War Go From Here? by Jack Detsch


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

One of the fellas. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov is now a meme. The North Atlantic Fellas Organization—the force behind those shiba inu cartoon memes you may have seen celebrating Ukrainian rocket attacks or trolling Russians on social media—has made Reznikov an honorary member, and his pooch even is rocking his signature specs and goatee.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Jack Detsch is a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Join the Conversation

Commenting on this and other recent articles is just one benefit of a Foreign Policy subscription.

Already a subscriber? .

Join the Conversation

Join the conversation on this and other recent Foreign Policy articles when you subscribe now.

Not your account?

Join the Conversation

Please follow our comment guidelines, stay on topic, and be civil, courteous, and respectful of others’ beliefs. Comments are closed automatically seven days after articles are published.

You are commenting as .

More from Foreign Policy

U.S. President Joe Biden listens to remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on May 19.
U.S. President Joe Biden listens to remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on May 19.

Russia’s Defeat Would Be America’s Problem

Victory in Ukraine could easily mean hubris in Washington.

Russian and Belarusian troops take part in joint military exercises.
Russian and Belarusian troops take part in joint military exercises.

Russia’s Stripped Its Western Borders to Feed the Fight in Ukraine

But Finland and the Baltic states are still leery of Moscow’s long-term designs.

Electricity pylons are shown under cloudy skies during rainfall near Romanel-sur-Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sept. 15.
Electricity pylons are shown under cloudy skies during rainfall near Romanel-sur-Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sept. 15.

Europe’s Energy Crisis Is Destroying the Multipolar World

The EU and Russia are losing their competitive edge. That leaves the United States and China to duke it out.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announces new European Union energy policies at the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels, on Sept. 7.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announces new European Union energy policies at the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels, on Sept. 7.

With Winter Coming, Europe Is Walking Off a Cliff

Europeans won’t escape their energy crisis as long as ideology trumps basic math.