‘Thrown in the meat grinder’: Russians react to mobilization


On Wednesday evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a new phase of the war in Ukraine: a partial mobilization of the population.

Although hardliners have been calling for such a move from the start, the government has tried to present the conflict as a contained “special military operation” rather than something that will directly affect civilians. That might change.

In an interview with TV channel Russia 24, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia has 25 million healthy men at its disposal, but will only engage 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 had died 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 will apply during mobilization, wartime and martial law – so far, the government has been reluctant to refer to the invasion of Ukraine as a war, using the term “special military operation” instead. Under the new decree, reservists will be treated the same as regular contract soldiers if they do not report for duty.

“They are losing the war and they want to do something not to lose it,” Oleg Ignatov, a Moscow-based analyst for Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.

“I think the biggest problem is that they have a shortage of personnel on the ground – they don’t have enough soldiers to attack Ukraine, or even protect the occupied territories. They want to close the gap with the Ukrainians and that is why they have declared the mobilization.”

Recent setbacks have forced the Russian army to look for manpower elsewhere.

Footage has recently leaked to social media showing the oligarch and alleged Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin inside a prison colony telling convicts they would be released when they were ready to face a six-month conscription. to sit out.

“They are either private military companies and prisoners [fighting in Ukraine]or your children,” Prigozhin said in a statement later.

Previously, journalists in Kyrgyzstan uncovered a social media campaign that hired “guards” to work in Ukraine, in exchange for 240,000 rubles ($4,383) a month and a simplified path to Russian citizenship. It soon became clear that this was another Wagner recruiting campaign.

Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are a source of migrant workers to Russia. On Wednesday, the Kyrgyz embassy in Moscow warned its compatriots that getting involved in a conflict on behalf of a foreign power at home could be a crime.

While tens of thousands of Syrian and other foreign fighters are believed to have been deployed to fight on behalf of Moscow earlier this year, no significant foreign legion appears to have arrived yet.

While the government has promised that only those with military experience will be drafted, in practice nothing legal prevents those without them from also being drafted. In response, the Spring Democratic Youth Movement called for renewed demonstrations against mobilization in the centers of Moscow, Saint Petersburg and all Russian cities.

“Vladimir Putin has just announced a partial mobilization in Russia. This means thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of war,” Spring wrote on their Instagram page.

“Now war will really come to every home and every family. The authorities always said that only “professionals” fought and that they would win. It turned out that they were not winning – and prisoners began to be recruited to the front. The war is no longer ‘out there’ – it has come to our country, our homes, for our relatives.

The deputies and officials who shouted daily about the need for mobilization remain alive and well in their warm seats. We believe they should be mobilized and sent to Ukraine – let them die for their sick fantasies, and don’t send ordinary boys to their deaths.”

As if anticipating this, pro-Kremlin commentator Ilya Remeslo wrote on his Telegram that “reliable sources” told him that those who participated in “illegal rallies” would be the first to be mobilized.

“They will immediately check, identify, detain and send the documents to the home affairs authorities on the spot,” he claimed. “Then, along with military registration and recruitment, the conscript’s category will be determined. Those who don’t immediately fit into the first category [of 300,000 experienced soldiers] will be registered for later conscription.”

“So we are waiting for you, dear hamsters,” he added. “It’s time to serve.”

Demonstrations took place in cities across Russia on Wednesday evening, although they appeared to be smaller than those in February.

Ivan Zhdanov, a close ally of imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, said the Navalny team was ready to support all anti-war actions: we are also ready to provide some assistance.”

But he said major protests were unlikely because Russian society is so fragmented.

“There is no solidarity in Russian society, and 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 prevent all protests, and whoever opposes the mobilization will be severely punished. But I think people will try to sabotage this decision. Men will want to avoid the mobilization, to hide from the people who are trying to kidnap them or try to leave the country.”

According to Google Trends, in the hours before Putin’s announcement, the question of “how to leave Russia” peaked on search engines, as well as “how to break an arm”. On Wednesday, all flights to Istanbul and almost all flights to Yerevan were sold out.

But flying abroad is not an option for everyone. The soldiers who have so far avoided a deployment to Ukraine by taking advantage of the loophole that it is not a declaration of war – meaning they are not obliged to participate – now find that door closed.

NN, a platoon commander who agreed to speak with Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said he had written a letter of resignation but the military would not accept it.

“And if I don’t go with the special operation now, they’ll put me in jail for the mobilization. In general, the process of resigning from our military is very complicated – you can’t just stop,” he said. ”

The order [to deploy] has already come 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. many others [in the army] share my opinion.”

But others are more resigned to the prospect of being deployed.

“This hits me directly because of my age. I’ve served and I’m properly trained, so I meet all the criteria, except maybe the navy isn’t particularly useful [in Ukraine]’, says 35-year-old Valentin from Saint Petersburg, who served in the navy from 2009-2010.

“Some of the other guys have a different opinion. Someone wants to leave [the country], but most of us will go if we’re told. I’m not afraid. If I get the message, I’ll go, but I’m in no rush either.”

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