On Wednesday evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a new phase of the war in Ukraine: mobilization of part of the population.
Although the hardliners have call In such a move from the outset, the government attempted to present the conflict as a controlled “special military operation” rather than something that would affect citizens directly. It’s time to change.
In an interview with Russia 24 TV channel, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia has 25 million men in good shape but will only call on 300,000 with military experience. They will receive additional training before being sent to the front, and will not include students or former conscripts.
Shoigu also claimed that 5,397 Russian soldiers were killed in the conflict.
On Wednesday – without any public debate or discussion – the Duma passed a law imposing penalties for looting, refusal to fight, surrender and desertion.
The new rules apply during times of mobilization, wartime and martial law – so far the government has been reluctant to call the invasion of Ukraine a war, using the term “operational” instead. special military”. Under the new decree, reservists will be treated like regular contract soldiers if they fail to report for duty.
“They are losing the war and they want to do something to not lose it,” Oleg Ignatov, an analyst with Crisis Group based in Moscow, told Al Jazeera.
“I think the main problem is that they lack manpower on the ground – they don’t have enough troops to attack Ukraine, or even defend the occupied areas. They want to close the gap with the Ukrainians and that’s why they announced the maneuver.”
Due to recent setbacks, the Russian military has had to look elsewhere for manpower.
Footage recently leaked on social media shows the oligarch and alleged head of Wagner’s mercenary force, Yevgeny Prigozhin, at a detention camp, telling convicts if they are willing to act. on a six-month mission that they will be released.
“Those are private military companies and prisoners [fighting in Ukraine]or your children,” Prigozhin later said in a statement.
Before that, journalists in Kyrgyzstan unconcealed a social media campaign that hires “security guards” to work in Ukraine in return for 240,000 rubles ($4,383) a month and a simplified path to Russian citizenship. Apparently this is another recruitment from Wagner.
Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are the main source of migrant labor to Russia. On Wednesday, the Kyrgyz embassy in Moscow warning its compatriots that participating in a conflict on behalf of a foreign power might be a crime at home.
Although tens of thousands of Syrian and other foreign fighters are believed to be join the army to fight on behalf of Moscow earlier this year, a substantial foreign corps does not seem to have materialized.
Although the government has promised that only those with military experience will be called up to the army, in reality there is nothing legally stopping those with no experience from enlisting. In response, the youth democracy spring movement called for new protests against the campaign in central Moscow, St Petersburg and all Russian cities.
“Vladimir Putin has just announced a partial deployment in Russia. This means that thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat mill of war,” Spring wrote on their Instagram page.
“Now, war will really come to every home and every family. The authorities used to say that only ‘professionals’ would fight and they would win. It turned out that they did not win – and prisoners began to be recruited to the front. War is no longer ‘out there’ – it has come to our country, to our homes, to our loved ones.
The deputies and officials who daily scream about the need to mobilize will remain in their warm chairs, living healthy. We believe they should be mobilized and sent to Ukraine – let them die from their sick fantasies, and not send ordinary people to their deaths. “
As if anticipating this, pro-Kremlin commentator Ilya Remeslo wrote on his Telegram that “reliable sources” informed him that the participants were “illegal protests.” will be the first to be mobilized.
“They will check the documents on the spot, identify them, detain them and send them to the internal affairs agency,” he said. “Then, along with the registration and recruitment, the category of the authorized person will be determined. Those who don’t fit right into the first category [of 300,000 experienced soldiers] will be registered for the next batch of imports”.
“So we are waiting for you, dear hamsters,” he added. “Time to serve.”
On Wednesday night, protests took place in cities across Russia, although they appeared smaller than the protests in February.
Ivan Zhdanov, a close ally of the imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, said the Navalny group is ready to support any and all anti-war action: “If you are willing to do big things more, including setting fire to recruitment offices, we are also available to provide some assistance. “
But he said that large protests are unlikely because Russian society is so difficult.
“There is no unity in Russian society, and there is no unity. There is no civil society, and Russia has not had free elections since the 2000s,” he said.
“I think they will try to stop any protests, and anyone who opposes the mobilization will be severely punished. But I think people will try to sabotage this decision. The males will want to avoid maneuvers, from people trying to work for them or trying to leave the country.”
According to Google Trends, in the hours before Putin’s announcement, the question “how to leave Russia” spiked on search engines, as did “how to break an arm”. On Wednesday, all flights to Istanbul and nearly all flights to Yerevan are Sold out.
But fleeing abroad is not an option for everyone. Soldiers who had so far evaded deployment to Ukraine using the loophole that it wasn’t a declared war – meaning they had no obligation to participate – now find that door closed. close.
NN, a platoon commander who agreed to speak with Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said he had written his resignation but the military would not accept it.
“And if I don’t do special operations now, they’ll put me in jail for being deployed. All in all, the process of firing from our military is complicated – you can’t just quit,” he said. “
Orders [to deploy] It’s already here and I don’t know what to do. I do not want to go; The interests of the state do not coincide with the interests of the public. Others [in the army] share my opinion. “
But others are more resigned to the prospect of being deployed.
“This affects me directly because of my age, I have served and I have proper training, so I fit all the criteria except maybe the fact that the navy is not particularly helpful. useful [in Ukraine]”, said Valentin, 35 years old from St Petersburg, who served in the navy from 2009-2010.
“Some other friends have a different opinion. Someone wants to leave [the country], but most of us would go if told. I do not scare. If I get the notice, I’ll go, but I’m in no hurry.”