Russian military: Lured to the front

Russia has lost thousands of soldiers in Ukraine. The military needs replacements that must be persuaded without mobilization. Much is promised to young men.

At least there the ranks were full: rehearsal for the big military parade in Moscow, April 28th. © Maxim Shemetov/​Reuters

When Nikita’s cell phone rang that Monday a few weeks ago, he didn’t expect a friendly invitation to go to war. “I was waiting for the courier with my purchases and thought that he couldn’t find the entrance to my house,” says the 30-year-old from Saint Petersburg, asking not to give his full name. Instead, a nice woman’s voice from the military office was on the line. “We wanted to ask if you were interested in a temporary contract with the Ministry of Defense for service in Ukraine,” the caller asked him. Out of sheer shock, he pressed the red button on his smartphone.
Today, the Russian looks back on that day with some relief. Fearing the possible consequences and to make sure he wasn’t being made fun of, he called back shortly afterwards. “The woman told me that she was only phoning a list of male residents of military age and that I should think carefully about a possible commitment. It almost sounded like she wanted to warn me,” says the Petersburg native. Since then, however, Nikita has applied for a passport so that “if the worst comes to the worst”, i.e. if there is a mobilization, he can still go abroad, as he says.
Thousands of men who are contacted by the military in Russia are experiencing the same thing as Nikita. Some get calls, others are sent a short notice in the mail. Third parties, in turn, receive direct visits from employees of the responsible military service, as was recently the case in the Siberian city of Tyumen. Officially, there is “no reason to panic,” according to the Ministry of Defense. The officials would only check the personal details and update the information. However, men who have accepted the invitation to visit the military office in person report numerous concrete offers on social networks to enlist as a contract soldier.
In addition, the military’s advertising attempts are becoming increasingly open. Most recently, recruitment offices have opened in Moscow shopping malls or on Palace Square in Saint Petersburg, a magnet for tourists from all over the world in times of peace. Most recently, the army was increasingly looking for soldiers via job advertisements on the Internet. According to the Russian recruiting portal, the military has already placed almost 7,000 offers for career soldiers since February, as many as in the previous year. Companies across the country also report to local journalists about visits from local recruitment centers that offer male employees temporary military contracts.
The state shies away from real mobilization
For lawyers like Pavel Chikov, head of the human rights organization Agora, these are clear signs of a so-called covert mobilization that has been going on in Russia for several months. “The Russian army has too few personnel and wants to increase the number of reservists and contract soldiers,” says Chikov. Because in Russia only contract soldiers or conscripts can be sent to war after at least four months of training, the military is trying to fill its ranks in this way.

In the heart of Saint Petersburg: Russian Army Recruitment Center © Anton Vaganov/​Reuters

The human rights activist Sergei Kriwenko, who heads the NGO Citizens, Army and Law, takes a similar view. Formally, says Kriwenko, there is no mobilization and nobody is therefore obliged to go to the army if the military service calls them. “Although the authorities have a legal right to check their information, many are offered service in Ukraine on this occasion as part of a contract,” says Krivenko. “The state has so far shied away from real mobilization because it is unpopular among the population and would also send a signal that the Ukraine war is not going according to plan.”

In fact, especially in the first weeks and months of the war, reports and rumors of mobilization panicked many Russians, especially in big cities. Just a few days after the war began, the head of the Ukrainian Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, announced that the Russian government intended to declare a state of war on March 4, according to information from the Kiev foreign intelligence service. “I would like to see the reactions of people in cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where there are more people who understand what’s going on in Russia,” Danilov teased at the time.

The rumor spread like wildfire, especially on Russian social networks. So fast that the source no longer mattered. Quite a few young Russians who fled abroad in the first few weeks, for example to Turkey or Armenia, justified their hasty departure with the fear of being drafted soon. In the meantime, flights from Moscow to Istanbul often cost over 1,000 euros, five times the normal price. The rumor mill boiled up a second time when Western secret services announced in early May that Vladimir Putin was planning to mobilize on May 9, the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.

Only a few insiders know how much the Russian government is flirting with the idea of ​​mobilization. So far, President Putin has denied any intentions in this regard. Nevertheless, many military experts see the lack of soldiers as the main reason for Russia’s slow progress in Ukraine. Western intelligence services and experts estimate the Russian army lost between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers in the first three months of the war. The number of injured is likely to be much higher. With an estimated troop strength in the war against Ukraine of around 150,000 men, that would be extremely significant losses.

“Russia’s most capable troops have been shaken by the first months of the war,” says Ruslan Lewiew of the Russian research team Conflict Intelligence, who criticizes Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. “The situation will not change without mobilization,” says Leviev in an interview with the Russian portal Meduza. But even those in Russia who advocate more decisive action in Ukraine, such as the former leader of the Donetsk separatists, Igor Strelkov, see a general mobilization as a prerequisite for helping Russia to victory.

Generous salary by Russian standards
In theory, at least, the Russian government could conscript several million men into armed service if mobilized. Every year around 300,000 young men complete their military service and are then considered reservists. Contract soldiers who retire from service also become part of the reserve. According to Russian law, these men cannot refuse to join the military in the event of mobilization. The exact number of reservists is secret in Russia.

So far, however, the Russian President seems to think that resorting to this reserve is too politically risky. Instead, the government and Russia’s military have so far limited themselves to paving the way for volunteer fighters to join the ranks of the army. Just a few weeks ago, the Duma approved a law that now also allows men over the age of 40 to sign a short-term contract with the military. Officially, the step was justified by the fact that the army lacked experienced specialists. In addition, the authorities are luring fighters to the front with promises of salary that are lavish by Russian standards. Probably the most important center where volunteer soldiers are trained is the Spetsnaz University in Gudermes, in the Chechen Republic. A good four weeks ago, the pro-government ruler of the region, Ramzan Kadyrov, said that volunteer fighters currently receive the equivalent of up to 5,000 euros on the day they leave for Ukraine, as well as a further 50 euros for each day of fighting. Russian state television regularly shows men from all over Russia training in Chechnya for their deployment in Ukraine.

At best, the problem of the shortage of soldiers can only be solved to a small extent. According to official information from the head of the Chechen parliament, Magomed Daudov, a good 3,000 volunteers went through the training camps in Chechnya, including around 1,800 fighters from other regions of Russia. In total, the republic has sent around 8,000 soldiers to fight for Putin since the Russian attack on Ukraine. Quite a few of them may have already fallen in the fight for Putin’s great power ambitions.

@Zeit Online, via

One comment

  1. “We wanted to ask if you were interested in a temporary contract with the Ministry of Defense for service in Ukraine,” the caller asked him.”

    Translation: We wanted to ask if you were interested in a temporary contract with the Ministry of Defense for cannon fodder in Ukraine, killing and dying for our Führer and Fatherland.

    “The situation will not change without mobilization,”
    With mobilization the situation will be hardly any better. These guys mostly are against the war, or, at least, against dying for Putin.

    “volunteer fighters currently receive the equivalent of up to 5,000 euros on the day they leave for Ukraine, as well as a further 50 euros for each day of fighting.”

    Unconditionally, that amount is nothing when you risk your life for an insane crime boss and are supposed to kill for his benefit.

    “Quite a few of them may have already fallen in the fight for Putin’s great power ambitions.”

    I’m sure of it!

    Liked by 5 people

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