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Vladimir Putin at a parade for Russia’s Navy Day on July 25, 2021

How ‘mobilization’ works in Russia Human rights expert Pavel Chikov explains what reservists and draftees can expect if Putin openly declares war

Source: Meduza
Vladimir Putin at a parade for Russia’s Navy Day on July 25, 2021
Vladimir Putin at a parade for Russia’s Navy Day on July 25, 2021
Alexey Nikolsky / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

The Kremlin denies it vociferously, but Western analysts and state officials warn that Vladimir Putin could declare Russia’s full military mobilization as soon as May 9, when the country celebrates the USSR’s victory in World War II. Ben Wallace, the UK’s secretary of state for defense, says such an announcement wouldn’t surprise him, adding that Putin could claim that Russia is now at war “with Nazis all over the world,” necessitating mass conscription. Meduza asked Pavel Chikov, the head of the human rights group Agora, who would be affected by a full mobilization and whether it would still be possible to avoid being drafted in Russia’s armed forces.

Potential timetables for declaring a full mobilization

The Russian Federation has never declared a full mobilization before (and the Kremlin says it has no intention of doing so now), so any conversation about how this would happen in reality is purely hypothetical and possible only as speculation within the framework of the rules and regulations now on the books.

“Mobilization” itself is a legal term regulated by a federal law first adopted in 1997. By executive order, the president can initiate a mobilization by triggering the various “algorithms and procedures” laid out in the law.

The law allows mobilization in the event of aggression or armed attack against Russia. Declaring mobilization legally recognizes that Russia is at a state of war with another country. If the war is not on Russian soil, however, the law does not permit the declaration of a mobilization because aggression and wars of aggression are prohibited by international law. For that reason, mobilization is possible only in the event of aggression from another state.

Though Russia invaded Ukraine and nearly all the fighting has occurred on Ukrainian territory, the Kremlin could cite Ukrainian counterattacks against areas in Russia’s Belgorod and Bryansk regions as evidence of armed aggression. In other words, despite the fact that Russia invaded Ukraine, the Putin administration would likely have little difficulty satisfying the law’s formal requirements for mobilization.


In the executive orders, Russia’s president specifies whether a mobilization is nationwide or limited to individual territories within the country. In the latter scenario, the mobilization would be considered “partial.”

Generally speaking, mobilization concerns men and women in the reserve. Women with specific skills, like doctors, would be subject to conscription. Russia’s reserves include discharged veterans, graduates of military schools, men older than 27 who never served in the military despite being eligible, men older than 27 whose service was deferred, men who did not serve due to physical limitations or other temporary conditions (such as an outstanding criminal record), men who completed alternative civilian service, and women with military expertise.

Mobilization would not apply to individuals with the right to deferment from conscription during mobilization. (The military issues these deferments for several reasons, such as illness, the need to care for close relatives or underage siblings, parents younger than 16 with four or more children, and members of Parliament.) Additionally, citizens younger than 27 who did not serve as conscripts but were never actually exempted from the draft would not be subject to conscription under mobilization because they’re not technically “in the reserve.”

Those who served in Russia’s alternative civilian service would be subject to recruitment since mobilization is not limited strictly to combat roles. The armed forces can conscript these people as civilian personnel, for example, to serve as medical workers at hospitals.

There is no profession that releases people from mobilization, but the list of codified exemptions is broad and includes conditions like illness, disability, and serious health problems suffered by a close relative.

What the Kremlin says

Russia’s maybe-mobilization The Kremlin’s spokesman calls it ‘nonsense,’ but speculation is mounting that Putin is poised to expand the war against Ukraine

What the Kremlin says

Russia’s maybe-mobilization The Kremlin’s spokesman calls it ‘nonsense,’ but speculation is mounting that Putin is poised to expand the war against Ukraine

Fight or flight

Anyone drafted in a mobilization could lose their right to leave the country, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all conscripts would face this restriction. That said, if the president’s orders say that mobilization applies to men between the ages of 27 and 60, as well as women with military expertise, these individuals could find it difficult to leave Russia. The exact design of these restrictions would determine their enforcement.

Once mobilization has been announced, the authorities would begin issuing draft-board summons and detaining potential conscripts in the street. Officials might also involve local police departments to help catch draft dodgers. Citizens who evade the draft board without an accepted excuse (illness, injury, sick relatives, or some other major obstacle recognized by the draft board) initially face small fines peaking around 3,000 rubles (about $50).

Anyone who receives mobilization orders is required to appear at the military barracks or recruitment office designated in the summons. This obligation exists only after the summons is physically delivered, however, meaning that Russians located abroad, beyond the reach of the state’s subpoenas, can evade conscription by staying away.

What mobilization would mean for conscripts

Under mobilization, citizens considered to be “in the reserve” could be sent directly into battle, given the assumption that they’ve already received all the necessary basic training. Fresh conscripts, on the other hand, must first undergo at least four months of training, but their deployment is regulated as compulsory military service, under rules separate from mobilization.

All citizens drafted under mobilization immediately become soldiers. Once conscripted under this procedure, their rank in the armed forces and Russia’s law on military service dictate all their rights and living allowance.

The president also has the power to declare a military emergency simultaneously with mobilization. For example, an emergency could be declared in specific areas of Russia near the border with Ukraine, but this is a different legal condition regulated under a separate federal law. It’s currently impossible to judge the likelihood of such actions by the Kremlin, given the absence of any precedent.

Interview by Alexey Slavin

Summary by Kevin Rothrock

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