Russia might be losing the ability to recruit fighters in its battle for Ukraine, a new Vocativ analysis has found.
Interest in joining the pro-Russian separatist militia in Ukraine plummeted in the months after the ceasefire agreement was established between the rebels and Ukrainian government forces in February, according to Vocativ's analysis of online discussions among separatists.
Vocativ collected more than 12,000 posts from the two top recruitment boards on VKontakte, Russia's Facebook, for the pro-Russian separatist militia in eastern Ukraine, ''Join the New Russian Army'' and ''How to Join a Militia: Information and Contacts.'' Many, if not most, of the candidates seeking to join were from Russia, according to their VKontakte profile locations. Vocativ found that comments with discussion about rebel recruitment in these two groups surged to 3,290 during February, the month when the ceasefire was established. Each month after February, however, the number of comments dwindled. In all of May recruitment was mentioned 848 times.
There was an uptick in violence nearing the establishment of a ceasefire agreement at the end of January. Activity in the group, ''How to Join a Militia,'' skyrocketed 600 percent per day, Vocativ previously reported. It was buzzing with messages posted by potential volunteers and recruiters working for separatist militias. On January 31, approximately 250 recruitment comments were posted in a single day. In contrast, there were a total of only 206 comments about recruitment in June's first nine days.
Russian television has this past week relentlessly broadcast the gore of the Ukrainian conflict and blamed it on the Ukrainian army, perhaps to prevent this very type of decline in Russians' interest in joining the rebels. But with the death toll up to 30 just in the past week due to a spike in conflict in the region, it remains to be seen whether increased violence means an uptick in willing recruits.