The Russian military is trying to make up for its severe manpower shortage in the war in Ukraine by compelling wounded soldiers to return to the front lines, bringing private security contractors into the military and paying bonuses to conscripts, according to a newly declassified U.S. intelligence assessment.
Two U.S. officials described the assessment on Wednesday, adding that the United States also has credible reporting that Russia is likely to begin recruiting some convicted criminals to serve in Ukraine in exchange for pardons.
High casualties in Ukraine, coupled with a failure by the Russian military to predict how long and bloody the war would be, have caused a manpower crisis in Ukraine.
Last week Russia announced it would expand the size of its army by 137,000, which Western officials said was a reflection of the military’s struggles in Ukraine. Since the beginning of the Ukraine war, between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded.
American officials have repeatedly said they believe that Russia can overcome its military shortages and achieve its strategic goals in Ukraine only by resorting to a draft. The interim steps, like expanding bonuses and raising the maximum age of new recruits, will fall short of making up for the thousands of losses Russia’s military has suffered in the six-month war.
While the debate over the need for a mass mobilization has grown more urgent in Russia in recent weeks, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has made clear that he will not resort to a draft, a sign that support for the war is thin among the Russian populace, according to analysts.
“I think Putin knows the war is very unpopular,” said Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official and retired C.I.A. officer.
Keen to avoid a draft, Mr. Putin has been looking for other ways to make up for the heavy casualties in Ukraine. “He is essentially losing there,” Mr. Mulroy said. “Or at least not winning, which is losing.”