Don't Call It Mobilization: Across Russia, Military Recruiters Send Out New Orders
In Voronezh, south of Moscow, military recruiting offices are sending out orders to draft-age men, telling them to update their contact information.
Likewise in the Penza region, further east, “the clarification of personal data is being conducted,” an unnamed military official told state news agency RIA-Novosti.
Same in Udmurtia, on the Volga River region, a fact that prompted the regional governor to appear on state-run TV to try and reassure people that there is no mandatory mobilization under way -- merely a call for volunteers willing “to defend the Fatherland, to defend its interests.”
In the 13 months since President Vladimir Putin launched what is now the largest land war in Europe since World War II, Russian forces have suffered major -- some Western officials say “catastrophic” --casualties. Estimates announced recently by the U.S. State Department put the figure of Russian dead and wounded at upwards of 200,000.
For its part, Ukraine, which has strictly guarded its losses, may have suffered at least 120,000 casualties, according to the Washington Post.
But Russia, faced with repeated battlefield failures, has twice turned to recruitment campaigns to add men to the fight.
In September, Putin shocked many Russians by announcing a mobilization of reservists and other military-eligible men, to bring 300,000 new personnel into the fight.
Now, with a sputtering winter offensive in the eastern Donbas region in its second month and Ukraine telegraphing its own spring offensive, Russian officials are again trying to boost numbers.
At least 42 regions across the country are now sending out summons to eligible men, according to human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov. One news site known for supporting government policies said the official target was to enlist up to 400,000 men.
Whatever it is, it's not a mobilization, the Kremlin insists.
“There are no such discussions,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by news agencies as saying on March 15, when asked: “Is the Kremlin discussing a second wave of mobilization?”
But if it is not yet a major, mandatory call-up, it may turn into one.
“I’m of the mind that they will have to do another mobilization sooner or later,” said Dara Massicot, a defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, a U.S.-based think tank. “The question is how they do it. Option A is a continuous series of small callups. Option B is a huge, massive mobilization.”
“Small, rolling replenishment: that’s what the system can support. That’s what the Kremlin would want for domestic stability,” she said. “It’s ad-hoc methods to get the numbers up, and when that doesn’t get the numbers, they’ll have to escalate it.”
'The Second Wave Of Mobilization Has Begun'
Russia has tried for years to modernize and upgrade Soviet-era practices and force structure, to make its armed forces nimbler and more professional. Still, Russian commanders have resisted ending mandatory conscription, and all men between 18 and 27 years of age are obligated to serve one year.
By law, those soldiers are forbidden to serve outside of Russia’s borders or in combat zones, though early in the invasion, there was what may have been a mistaken deployment of a small number of conscripts to Ukraine.
With the Ukraine invasion morphing into a war of attrition, Russian military officials have been signaling for months that new troops would likely be needed for the war effort.
Last summer, the Defense Ministry rolled out a public relations campaign to sign up volunteers, called “kontraktniki.” That effort dovetailed with a more punchy effort by the notorious private mercenary company Wagner Group, which included recruiting prison inmates to fight, in exchange for clemency.
Earlier, the Kremlin also adjusted the age limits for people serving as volunteers.
In December, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia would increase the overall size of its armed forces to 1.5 million, though he said that was broadly geared toward the expansion of NATO, in particular Finland’s imminent membership in the alliance.
Putin’s September mobilization order was the most dramatic move.
However, the process swiftly became shambolic, with scores of publicized complaints from newly constituted units and their relatives about the quality of weaponry and equipment being handed out, about the training they received, or about the commanders overseeing deployments.
According to the news site Ura.ru, the new recruitment campaign is being overseen by Dmitry Medvedev, the former president who is now a bellicose commentator and vice chairman of Putin’s Security Council, and reportedly aims to bring in 400,000 new soldiers across Russia.
The site on March 10 reported that officials had issued recruitment quotas to regional military authorities: for example, 10,000 men each for the Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk regions; 9,000 for the Perm region.
In Voronezh, the regional government announced on March 14 that orders were being sent out to an unspecified number of men.
"We especially emphasize that the sole purpose of these events is solely to update military registration data in the Voronezh military registration and enlistment offices," authorities said in a post to Telegram. "This is the usual routine work of the military registration and enlistment office, which is carried out constantly: clarification of military registration data.”
Massicot said she was uncertain whether the ongoing mail-out of summons was in fact a formal recruitment drive, or just the military recruiters trying to prepare their databases and other systems for when the actual drive starts.
Either way, she doubted officials would be able to hit their targets for recruitment.
“A lot of this is just fantastical: I mean who’s going to sign up for the Russian Army unless they’re compelled?” she said. “Yes, material benefits motivate some. But still…”
Nikolai Mitrokhin, a Russian sociologist at the University of Bremen in Germany, counted 31 regions that were already sending out paperwork and registration documents.
“The second wave of mobilization has begun in Russia, he said in a post to Telegram. “So far, obviously, they are testing the electronic accounting system wherever it’s ready.
“[But] it’s not yet clear who will be called up. Either all those eligible, or only those who sign a contract” to serve, he said.
Mitrokhin also speculated that officials would be unable to meet quotas in some places, and would then be forced to use coercive measures to force men to sign up.
In the southern Siberian region of Chita, news reports quoted Yury Shuvalov, a military recruiter, as saying that new training classes were also being organized for reservists in conjunction with summons being sent out.
Meanwhile, the twice-yearly draft of military conscripts -- separate from any additional mobilization drive -- is scheduled to start on April 1. Russian officials have said they hope to conscript between 170,000 and 200,000 men in the spring draft.
Verstka, an independent online news site, cited unnamed officials in Voronezh and an unnamed Siberian region as saying that the mobilization campaign would focus on volunteers for the moment; no one will be forcibly enlisted and sent to Ukraine.
“You can refuse the offer to go to the front,” the official was quoted as telling Verstka.