Only two months ago the mainstream media widely circulated a video which they said showcased “shocking footage” of Russian school children training with military weapons in programs designed to prepare them for the military. The programs were widely criticized as “indoctrination.”
Of course, Ukraine has also been involved in weapons training for children and these efforts have only increased in recent months as the city of Bakhmut, an epicenter of the fighting for many months, has reportedly fallen to Russia’s Wagner Group. CNBC has briefly reported on the “Defense of Ukraine” program at the military-patriotic center for schoolchildren in Lviv. The center was opened this month with plans to open dozens of other training facilities for children across the country in the near future.
The western city of Lviv has been a primary relocation point for children escaping the war in the east, so it’s not surprising that the Ukrainian government would seek young recruits for the war effort there.
The issue is not so much the training as it is the double standard – Russia institutes weapons training classes for kids and it’s insidious indoctrination. Ukraine does it and it’s “patriotic.”
The training of children for war is an often frowned upon practice, if only because of the dark imagery of Nazi Youth taken from their parents and armed to the teeth during WWII. But it is also generally a signal of weakening military capacity – Wars are not won with billions of dollars in equipment, they are won with soldiers. And it appears Ukraine might be short on manpower.
The loss of Bakhmut, which seems to be a reality according to reports so far, was preceded by weeks of media claims that Ukrainian troops were gaining “significant ground” amid the launch of a counter-offensive which has supposedly already started. So far there is little evidence of this offensive, except attempts to reinforce Bakhmut which have apparently failed.
Keep in mind that the battle was primarily fought by a mercenary army, not official Russian forces. The Wagner Group has been described within western circles as an “army of convicts” ran by a “restaurateur.” This would mean NATO trained soldiers supported by veteran mercenaries from around the world were just defeated by the lowest of the low according to the media’s own narrative.
The strategy might have been much smarter than the public in Europe and the US has been led to believe. While Bakhmut is consistently described as a symbolic victory instead of a strategic one, it would seem that the reports of Wagner running low on ammo and threatening to walk away from the front lines in frustration were fabricated. Western outlets joyously ate this information up and spread it as if it were fact, which may have helped to lure even more Ukrainian forces to Bakhmut just to be leveled along with the city.
Was it really a waste of manpower and ordnance? Or did the Russians use mercs to deplete Ukraine’s supply of soldiers by bogging them down in a tactically precarious region? We will find out if and when the much publicized Ukraine counter-offensive materializes. In the meantime, Kiev is pursuing teen recruits out of Lviv. As NATO sends billions of dollars in funding and new arms into Ukraine, one has to wonder if there will be enough soldiers waiting to pick up those weapons when they arrive?