The Russian “partial mobilization” to fight in Vladimir Putin's War in Ukraine is becoming the disaster some had hoped for. It's a mix of comedy, political thriller, and tragedy. However, the comedy and thriller aspects will go quickly.
The conflict in Ukraine has caused Russia to be confronted with a military personnel crisis. A large proportion of the regular ground forces were part of the first act of the Special Military Operation (SMO). They were bolstered by Russian “National Guard” or Rosgvardiya; these are the riot police and interior ministry security troops that are directly accountable to Putin. In late march, Putin made the decision to summon 100,000 reservists to active duty, all of whom had combat experience, and to make those who were part of the Wagner Group mercenaries under military control.
Seven months after the start of the conflict, Putin needed to return mobilisation as well. In presenting his war as an SMO instead of an actual war, he made the conscripted soldiers unavailable for duty in combat. According to Russian law, contract soldiers are able to quit anytime they wish, such as when they've been told they're headed to battle. The range of fronts defended by Russian troops spans around 600 miles. This is about the distance between Washington, DC, and Atlanta. With the number of troops in the area, they have had a hard time protecting the front, forming a reserve, and moving units from the line to rest.
Russia's reserves aren't like our reserves. If you've been a part of the military, you're in the reserve up to the age of 65. There is no regular training or instruction required, nor is it provided. The idea was to select people with the necessary abilities. Defense Minister Shoigu suggested riflemen and armored vehicle drivers. He also promised them refresher courses and then to send them to Ukraine to replace the troops already there.
The first reaction to the mobilization directive wasn’t the response Putin had hoped for. There is enough information emerging to provide a picture of Russia's mobilization efforts.
Almost immediately, finding a flight out of the country was not possible. According to Ukraine Battle Map on Twitter:
A large number of men in Moscow, Russia at Vnukovo International Airport are waiting to leave Russia after a Partial Mobilization was announced yesterday.
A flight from Russia to Turkey now costs Thousands of Dollars
These men don’t support the war when they are called to battle.
At the border crossings, the traffic volume caused the border to be closed.
Jack Detsch tweeted, “NEW: Russians waiting at the border with Georgia in long lines of trucks and cars after Putin’s mobilization order, per a Sept 25 image. More than 115,000 Russians have fled into Georgia since mobilization order last week. Lines formed more than 16km from border.”
The wealthy naturally don't fight. Under Putin's fascism, the idea that “rich man's war but a poor man's fight” still applies.
In some areas, those who are eligible to be mobilized must have the approval of the conscription office prior to leaving the country. If you're not familiar with Russian media personalities, the “war cheerleader” is RT editor-in-chief and TV commentator Margarita Simonyan.
There have been government-sponsored pro-conscription rallies. But, more frequently there have been riots and protests.
The tensions are particularly high in Central Asian areas, which appear to have been specifically selected for compulsory conscription.
The demonstrations also highlight the costs of sending OMON and the SOBR of the Rosgvardiya off into war.
Even the elites aren't convinced that everything is going according to plan. For instance, here's the mentioned Simonyan discussing the process of conscription on an interview show that was hosted by regime propaganda guru Vladimir Solovyov. “Looks like the 🇷🇺 mobilization is going very well…” tweeted Carl Bildt.
For those who are conscripted, the consequences are extremely bleak.
The equipment isn't in working order, if they can find it.
A quick note: the state of these weapons pulled out of storage is like armored vehicles that are pulled out of storage depots. There's a pattern here.
Soldiers are advised to purchase their own equipment since the government cannot supply it.
The leadership there is truly inspirational.
The results are like you would imagine. Soon after the mobilization announcement, Ukraine’s President Zelensky delivered a speech in Russian directed at the conscripts, their families and their friends.
It was also reported that the Ukrainian government also referenced a number that Russians could call to surrender safely. However, to their delight, they received phone calls coming from Russians who had received a conscription letter but had not yet been enlisted into the military.
Instead of receiving at minimum two weeks of training, many are being sent right away to battle. There have been stories that Russian trains full of troops being struck by artillery shells traveling to their destinations. The newly mobilized soldiers have already started showing up as prisoners.
While we do not have any information on Putin's plan, it is obvious that regime stability and time are two of the most crucial elements. The release of 300,000 people to their death or detention in Ukraine can give him some time. They could be little more than an effort to slow things down, however, they could fill the holes in some units and a small percentage of them could be capable soldiers. It isn’t clear why Putin needs to purchase more time. If, as is expected, on Friday he declares that he's acquired a quarter of Ukraine, there isn’t room for more talks unless they are held on the decks of the USS Missouri.
Although we find ourselves laughing at traffic jams that are 20 miles long at border crossings and tickets from Moscow to Bumfuk, Tajikistan costing EUR9,000, we shouldn't overlook the fact that the government could halt the mass exodus if it chose to. The decision to flee mobilization is permitted possibly because the people who are fleeing are those with an education, income, and social status. Similar to the riots that erupted during our draft in the mid-1960s which began in top universities and spread to other areas, those fleeing to Georgia and Armenia could create a strong resistance to conscription and even threaten the regime. Unfortunately for Russia, the vast majority of people who flee the mobilization process are lost forever. The people who are conscripted are typically poor, not highly educated, and ethnic minorities. They would hardly threaten Putin's rule.