In a rare morning televised address this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization.” This measure is necessary to protect the Russian people from, in his words, “the entire war machine of the collective West”. Putin repeatedly assured that it was only a partial mobilization and emphasized that only reservists and people who served in the army or have military experience are affected.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also addressed the public and said that conscripts and students would not be called up for combat. Only 300,000 people were to be drafted under the new mobilization measures.
Soldier recruitment via job portal?
The announcement was not entirely unexpected. Discussions about whether Russia needs more troops took on a new urgency this month after Ukraine retook more than 6,000 square kilometers of Russian-held territory. Since the beginning of the war, there have been reports of efforts in Russia to recruit more men for combat, including through job portals promising quick bucks. In mid-September, a video circulated on social media purporting to show Kremlin-affiliated businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin recruiting Russian prisoners to fight in Ukraine as part of the Wagner mercenary group.
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Putin’s announcement on Wednesday now makes the call to arms official. But the order published on the Kremlin’s website raises questions. The document lists 10 items outlining the legal status of conscripted soldiers, but item 7 is missing. According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, this refers to the number of recruits and has only administrative significance. This raises the question of whether the Kremlin only wants to call up 300,000 soldiers. The newspaper “Novaya Gazeta”, which is critical of the Kremlin, reported that the actual number of recruits needed before the removal of item 7 was given as 1 million.
Much panic before the call-up order
Not everyone in Russia has confidence in the Kremlin’s assurances. On the messenger app Telegram, groups with names like “Here are draft notices distributed” and “Recall notices Russia” have become hubs of activity for thousands of members. In the groups, messages were shared about places where the police were waiting to hand out draft notices. “Moscow, Chekhov Pushkin metro station crossing. Police officers with papers stop men,” reads one of the posts, along with a blurry photo of the police officers and passengers. Another post shows men in camouflage clothing and reads: “St. Petersburg – they come to the dormitories”.
Deutsche Welle was not able to verify the veracity of these posts prior to publishing this article, but they reflect the sense of panic that Putin’s announcement provoked in some people. Members of a pro-Kremlin Telegram channel pro-war accused the senders of such warnings of being pro-Ukrainian: “We are not like you. And on our streets nobody will [von der Polizei] picked up”.
Can Putin’s Words Be Trusted?
Kremlin critics are convinced that the partial mobilization is a cause for concern. “The most important news of the day is that Russia has announced a mobilization,” Sergei Krivenko, a former member of the Human Rights Council attached to the Russian President, tells DW, noting that what applies today to “parts” is changing very quickly can apply to everyone. Krivenko, who today runs the human rights organization “Citizens. Army. Law.” points out that the number of recruits cited by the Kremlin is not mentioned in any official document.
The prominent Russian opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov shares his doubts. “You only describe it as ‘partial mobilization’, says the politician, who left the country in June 2021 because he feared being arrested. But: “I read Putin’s order carefully. They mobilize everyone,” he is certain. There are only certain categories of people who would be drafted first. “They get additional cannon fodder. Putin has announced the latest funeral march. Today I wrote to a lot of people and said: Guys, get out of the country.”
Nothing like getting out of Russia
Many people in Russia seem to have drawn the same conclusions as Gudkov. Local media reports that flights leaving Russia in the next few days bound for visa-free countries sold out almost immediately. The prices for destinations such as Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan reached dizzying heights of more than 2000 euros.
The government-critical exile medium Meduza published an article entitled “Where to flee from Russia now”, which contains a list of countries and their entry requirements. EU members Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia announced they would not offer refuge to Russians fleeing Moscow’s mobilization. However, this restriction does not apply to dissidents or refugees.
The war moves into Russian everyday life
However, it is difficult to determine the proportion of the Russian population who reacted negatively to partial mobilization. Denis Volkov from the independent Russian polling institute Levada Center says that many people have gotten used to “living in a conflict situation”. So it feels like the conflict is just in the background, but mobilization can bring it further to the fore.
Since Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February, Russia has become increasingly authoritarian. Despite demonstrators fearing the full force of the law, anti-partial mobilization protests have taken place across the country.
According to the human rights organization OVD Info, more than 1,200 people were arrested in 30 cities. Hundreds of thousands have already signed a petition against partial and general mobilization. This is despite the fact that “discrediting” the armed forces is a criminal offense carrying up to 15 years in prison.
However, larger demonstrations are unlikely, explains Denis Volkov: “Mass protests are currently impossible in Russia. The very idea seems like a pipe dream.”
Adapted from the English by Phoenix Hanzo.