'Anyone who's upset can still leave — for now' The logistics of the Kremlin's mobilization plan
Story by Andrey Pertsev. Translation by Sam Breazeale.
On the morning of September 21, in an address to the nation, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization of the country's armed forces — a major escalation in Moscow's ongoing war against Ukraine. In the same speech, Putin indicated that Russia will accept the results of the "referendums" slated to take place in four regions of Ukraine that are partially occupied by Russian troops: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. With the Kremlin pulling out all the stops to try to regain the upper hand on the military and political fronts, Meduza spoke to sources inside and close to Russia's leadership to learn what the coming days are likely to hold.
Meduza has learned from sources close to the Kremlin and to the leadership of several Russian regions that responsibility for carrying out Russia’s newly announced mobilization will fall primarily to regional governors. According to the sources, the federal authorities, including the Defense Ministry, plan to give the governors approximate numbers of people to be sent to the war in Ukraine.
According to one high-ranking official who spoke to Meduza on the condition of anonymity, regional governors have not yet been told these numbers. Sources from the leadership of two Russian federal subjects confirmed this. “At this point, nobody knows how this [mobilization process] will work or who it will affect,” said one source. “Nobody’s happy about it, of course, but it’s our job: once we get the numbers, the process will begin.”
Another regional official indicated that just as in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal authorities have transferred responsibility for “unpopular measures” to the local authorities, saying, “That’s just how we do things.”
At the same time, a source close to the leadership of the ruling United Russia party told Meduza that he's confident the governors will “suck it up” and coordinate the mobilization successfully. “There’s a first time for everything — COVID, now mobilization. They’re big boys.”
A source close to the Putin administration told Meduza that the basic procedure for the upcoming mobilization has already been determined. According to the plan, many Russians will be summoned to their enlistment offices in a just a matter of days.
“[First,] they’ll call them in to verify their data. [Then] they’ll insistently propose that people sign contracts voluntarily. They’ll successfully manage to pressure quite a few people by mentioning the new articles in the Criminal Code, among other things. Not everyone is legally literate. And those who don’t agree will be released and then mobilized later — and that time, it won’t be voluntary,” said the source.
In addition, according to Meduza’s sources, the Kremlin intends to use mobilization to fix personnel shortages in the “military civil administrations'' they've set up in Ukraine’s occupied territories. While many ambitious officials from Russia’s regions were willing to travel to the Donbas, the Kherson region, and the Zaporizhzhia region earlier in the war, the number of volunteers “greatly diminished” after Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive and the deaths of multiple Russian-backed occupation officials. A source close to the Kremlin said the following:
State corporations, as well as “government-adjacent” companies, will help regional governments with the mobilization process. A source close to the leadership of one state company told Meduza that businesses have already been given “approximate guidelines” as to how many employees will need to be mobilized, and that these numbers amount to about one percent of the total number of employees on reserve. (Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that Russia’s “partial mobilization” will affect “300,000 reserve troops” out of the full 25-million-person “mobilization reserve.”)
One of Meduza’s sources noted that drafted state corporation employees will maintain their “salaries and bonuses,” and that the companies will send workers whose contributions to their workplaces are “insignificant.”
The Kremlin isn’t expecting widespread protests against mobilization. One source close to the Putin administration’s domestic policy bloc told Meduza that public discontent in response to the news is “expected, but not critical.”
Another source close to the Kremlin told Meduza that “the majority of people still support the SVO [‘special military operation’]. For them, the president’s argument that mobilization is necessary to oppose NATO will be sufficient. And for now, those who are terribly upset can still leave — nobody’s going to arrest them at this point. Everything will be done gradually.”
One of Meduza’s sources also emphasized that the authorities aren’t planning to close the border to Russian men before the end of the “referendums” in Ukraine’s occupied territories (slated to end on September 27). The situation may change, however, “if there’s a mass outflux.” According to Meduza’s sources, what happens will ultimately be up to the “security bloc” (the Defense Ministry, Russian intelligence services, and law enforcement) as well as on Vladimir Putin, who is determined the conduct the “referendums” and move forward with mobilization as soon as possible.