What to Know About the Mobilization in Russia

Image by Kevin Schmid from Unsplash.

On Sept. 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists during a national address. These reservists are receiving summons to attend two weeks of training before being sent out into combat in Ukraine. Putin’s speech also again accused the West of arranging a coup in Ukraine in 2014 and intentionally provoking rebellion within Russia. He claims that this partial mobilization is a response to what he describes as a Western plot to break apart Russia. There hasn’t been a mobilization declared in Russia since World War II.

After Putin’s address, natural gas prices immediately jumped while the euro dropped. Searches of “how to break an arm at home” spiked in Russia, causing speculation that reservists and military-age men were considering self-harm to escape being sent to the combat in Ukraine. Flights out of Russia almost immediately began selling for exuberant prices, with many selling out completely. On Sept. 23, the border crossing to Kazakhstan from Russia was taking 12 hours to pass, as opposed to the normal 30 minutes. The next Monday after the mobilization was announced, Sergei Tsekov, a senator in Russia, made a proposal for a law that would keep military-age men from exiting the country during what he called the “current situation.” There are reports, however, that at the border, men of military age are already being prevented from crossing into other countries.

Protestors hit the streets of Russia after receiving news of the mobilization. It’s estimated that over 2,000 demonstrators have been arrested so far just for protesting the draft. Many more have been arrested since the war with Ukraine began, which Russia has still not officially called a war but a special military operation. On Sept. 26, a Russian man crashed a car into the entrance of a recruitment center in Siberia and then set the car on fire with Molotov cocktails. A gunman opened fire on the building, critically wounding the commander of the center. As of Monday, 17 government buildings and recruitment centers have been attacked in protest of the mobilization, according to an independent Russian media outlet. 

This mobilization comes as a response to reports that Russian forces have been struggling in Ukraine, with Ukrainian troops starting to take back some previously Russian-occupied territory. Publicly, Russia has only admitted to a loss of 5,937 troops, while Western governments claim that the true total is closer to 15,000. The Ukrainian military has reported that it has lost at least 9,000 troops in the war and claims to have wounded or killed 45,000 Russian soldiers. The United Nations has documented at least 5,600 civilian deaths, but the true total is feared to be much higher.

In Ukraine itself, Russia has been seeking to annex four regions in the east and south that are currently under its occupation by staging referendums. Western and Kyiv governments claim that these votes are a sham, taking place so Moscow could claim that it would be an attack on Russia if or when any Ukrainian force was to try and take back the land. People who live in these regions say that Russian soldiers forced them to vote, sometimes showing up at their doors with guns and a ballot box. Russian sympathizers were brought in from other regions to give some illusion of a legitimate vote. The official result of these votes, as released by Russia, is that the large majority of these residents support the occupied territories joining Russia. Putin is expected to announce their annexation on Sept. 30. In 2014, 97% of Crimea, according to official results published by the Russian government, also supported joining Russia in a similar vote.