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Putin orders Russian military to increase its forces as Ukraine war passes the six-month mark

The decree will increase the number of service members in the armed forces by 137,000.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Thursday increasing his country’s armed forces by 137,000 as the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine passed the six-month mark.  

Putin’s decree will increase the number of combat personnel in the armed forces by about 10%, to 1.15 million. That will take the military’s total head count to 2.04 million.

A copy of the order on a Russian government website says it goes into effect Jan. 1.  It was published online and reported on by Russian state media. No reason for the boost was immediately given.

It also orders that the Russian government ensure funds are provided for the increase from the federal budget. A previous such order signed by Putin in 2017 boosted the headcount to 1.9 million, of which 1.01 million were combat personnel.

The decree comes just a day after Putin’s defense chief acknowledged that the Russian military campaign in Ukraine has stalled, with experts saying the Kremlin's troops appeared demoralized and understaffed.

Russian forces failed to capture the capital, Kyiv, but now control large parts of Ukraine’s south and east, where Moscow has refocused most of its forces in the industrial Donbas region.

In recent weeks the world's attention has been focused on a nuclear plant in the south, where fighting has fueled growing alarm about a potential disaster — Ukraine said shelling caused the Russian-occupied plant to be disconnected from the country's power grid Thursday.

Wednesday marked six months since Putin’s army launched the full-scale invasion of its neighbor, an anniversary that coincided with Ukraine’s Independence Day in dual symbolism that prompted warnings that Russia might use the occasion to step up attacks.

Those fears materialized when Kyiv said at least 25 people were killed in a Russian rocket strike on a train station in the central town of Chaplyne. Moscow confirmed the strike but not the civilian casualties, saying Thursday that more than 200 Ukrainian soldiers and military equipment headed for the Donbas were destroyed in the attack.

Russia has not recently released any estimates of how many of its troops have been killed or injured in Ukraine. Kyiv says the number is more than 45,000. Ukraine said this week that 9,000 of its military personnel have been killed, publicly disclosing the number for the first time since the invasion.  

NBC News has not verified the claims or the number of dead or injured on either side.

Russian President Vladimir Putin Attends 77th Victory Day With Parade On Red Square
Russian officers march during the Victory Day Parade in Moscow's Red Square this year.Getty Images

It was not clear from Thursday's decree how Moscow planned to beef up its troop numbers or whether it would involve employing more contractors, boosting the number of conscripts or both. The Kremlin has insisted on calling the war a “special military operation,” with Putin refraining from calling for complete mobilization at home. 

"Putin has been reluctant to do this because he has tried to isolate the Russian population from the costs of the war through using mercenaries from the Wagner private security organization, recruiting in the non-Russian ethnic republics of the country, from the prison population and using press gangs in occupied parts of Ukraine," said Neil Melvin, the director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, or RUSI, a London-based think tank.

"But now the Russian army is exhausted, and the ad hoc recruitment techniques are not providing enough fresh troops. So the Russian authorities have announced an increase in the size of the army to fill the gaps from war losses," he said. "This is a dangerous moment for the Russian president, as the announcement is an admission that the ‘special military operation’ has gone seriously off plan, and now the wider Russian population will have to start paying the price with the lives of their sons."

Other experts raised doubts about whether the decree would actually boost troop numbers substantively, especially in the short term.

“This is easier to decree than do,” Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at RUSI, said on Twitter.

Michael Clarke, professor of war studies at King’s College London, said the order "is an obvious indication that Russia now knows it is in for a long campaign."

"Nothing in this decree will make a difference until next spring," he said. "That is when we can expect a second major Russian offensive, after they have effectively dug themselves in for the winter and geared up for it in the spring — hoping to be more efficient than when they began this operation." 

All Russian men ages 18 to 27 must serve one year in the military.

The Russian military rounds up draftees twice a year, starting April 1 and Oct. 1. Putin ordered the drafting of 134,500 conscripts during the latest spring draft this year and 127,500 last fall.

In recent years, the Kremlin emphasized increasing the share of volunteer contract soldiers as it sought to modernize the army and improve its readiness.