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Russia paves the way for a new mass mobilization of soldiers for Ukraine

Vladimir Putin has ordered the maximum number of army personnel to be raised to 2.2 million while the Ministry of Defense has reduced the list of diseases that provide exemption from conscription

Guerra de Rusia en Ucrania
A recruitment announcement in Saint Petersburg, November 11.ANATOLY MALTSEV (EFE)

The Russian government says that it is not contemplating a new mobilization for the entrenched invasion of Ukraine, but at the same time it is paving the way to swell the ranks of its army. The Russian Ministry of Defense wants to have as many civilians as possible at its disposal and from the end of next year it will exclude “those diseases that do not have a significant impact on the military capacity” as a reason to avoid conscription. Which diseases that includes is not specified. In line with the same objective, President Vladimir Putin has decreed an increase in the theoretical personnel of the Russian Armed Forces — figures that do not necessarily correspond to the actual number of active troops — to 2.2 million.

Casualties and fatigue are building up on the front and Russia will need more men if the war drags on, as the Kremlin foresees, while warning of an increase in “threats against Russia” linked to the “special military operation and the ongoing expansion of NATO.” Moscow asserts that the initial objectives of the war have not changed.

“The special military operation will continue. Our economy has adapted and guarantees the necessary regime to continue it,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned Monday, after suggesting that the Kremlin is waiting for the West to abandon Kyiv to its fate. “It is clear that it is becoming more and more difficult for them to allocate money to Ukraine,” Peskov said.

A third of the Russian budget is earmarked for military spending (40% if other security areas are added) and Moscow is not content with the Ukrainian territory it has occupied so far. “We see no reason why our objectives should be revised,” said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last Friday when asked during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit about the scarce movement on the front lines.

According to the UK Ministry of Defense, in the last two months during their offensive on Avdiivka, Russian forces have similar or even greater losses than in the battle of Bakhmut at the beginning of the year. Despite this, the Kremlin claims everything is under control. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman and former president Dmitry Medvedev said this weekend that the military has recruited more than 452,000 people this year. He did not specify whether that figure includes the Defense Ministry-ordered integration, as of July, of mercenaries and volunteers from groups such as Wagner.

Health reasons were among the main arguments of young Russians trying to avoid the first major mobilization in September 2022, when more than 300,000 civilians were called up. The Defense Ministry now notes in its draft decree that it has taken note “of the experience gathered” in Ukraine. That conscription was chaotic and there were thousands of complaints from those who had been enlisted. Although Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that only those with military experience who were part of the reserve would be called up, the mobilization decree did not specify this and there were cases in the recruitment centers where attempts were made to force civilians to serve in Ukraine despite them having a medical certificate that should have exempted them.

Proposal to extend military service

Reducing the list of diseases for exemption will not only facilitate the mobilization of civilians, but will also extend to the recruitment of professional military personnel and the annual call-up of young people for compulsory military service. In fact, some Russian lawmakers have proposed the extension of compulsory service to two years in order to have more troops available.

Putin is also seeking to develop an army that can confront NATO in the medium term. Last Friday, the Kremlin issued a decree raising the maximum number of members of the armed forces to 2.2 million, 1.3 million of which are potential combatants. This is not the first time Russia has modified this ceiling: Putin did so in 2000 and again in 2010 when reforming the excessive military structure inherited from the USSR. In August 2022, he increased the limit by 130,000, six months after the invasion of Ukraine.

Adding to the attrition suffered on the battlefields of Ukraine is the accession to NATO of Finland in April of this year and the future membership of Sweden, which is still pending final approval by Turkey and Hungary.

Police raids

Another indication of a possible mobilization in the short term is that Russian police have in recent months intensified raids on mosques, markets, and factories to capture potential recruits among migrants who have dual citizenship: people from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, who form the majority of the migrant community in Russia. After receiving citizenship, some did not formalize another mandatory document, the so-called military ticket, a register that provides the Defense Ministry with the profiles of potential recruits.

Last August, more than 100 workers at a St. Petersburg vegetable market were detained and taken to an enlistment center to complete this procedure. “To take this opportunity to further educate Russians,” the police said in their statement on immigrants, “citizenship not only grants rights, but also responsibilities, including the constitutional obligation to do military service.”

Such searches have taken place in recent weeks at one of the country’s largest e-commerce companies, Wildberries, an alternative to Amazon in Russia. Last weekend at a warehouse in the Tula region, south of Moscow, a dozen employees were detained “for a routine check of documents as part of military conscription,” the company said. In late November, the more than 8,000 employees of Wildberries stopped working for a few hours after learning of the first raid, in which more than 40 workers were taken from the communal dormitory where they lived to a recruitment center.

Another high-profile case took place last October, when Mamut Useinov, the star of a well-known television singing contest, was arrested in a Moscow mosque. According to his account, he and others were put on a bus and held for hours in a recruitment center. “I was forcibly taken away, my documents were illegally confiscated and I had no opportunity to appeal or report my illnesses and beliefs,” he stated on his personal Instagram account. “We were told that we had to sign a contract for one year or we would go to prison.” According to Useinov, several of those who were detained agreed to join the army.

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