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‘It’s whatever the Defense Ministry says’ 300,000 to be drafted into Russia’s army. Warned not to leave the country, reservists rush to buy their tickets to escape.

Source: Meduza
Mikhail Grebenschikov / RBK / TASS

President Vladimir Putin has announced a “partial mobilization” in Russia. In his national address on Wednesday, he assured Russians that “only people currently in the army reserve” will be subject to the draft, which begins immediately. This applies, first of all, to people with previous military and combat experience. The president promised that new troops drafted under the mobilization order will receive the same “status, pay, and all the social guarantees” that contract soldiers already have. Here’s a point-by-point breakdown of the upcoming mobilization and what it will mean for Russians.

Putin’s official mobilization decree does not specify that only the reservists would be subject to the draft. The decree lists the possible grounds for exemption from service: those can be age and health limitations, or a court-issued prison sentence. The document allows deferrals of military service for people employed in the military-defense sector. Dmitry Peskov, the presidential press secretary, said that categories eligible for deferral will be specified “as soon as possible.”

The new decree contains a classified seventh paragraph, left out from the version published on Kremlin’s official website. In another version of the document, published by the official legal information portal, that paragraph is marked “for internal use.” According to Peskov, that classified paragraph specifies the target number of troops to be drafted.

Pavel Chikov, the founder of Agora, a human rights organization, has pointed out the “maximally broad” formulation of the decree. He expects that people who previously served in the army and signed reserve contracts will be drafted first. Chikov expects the Defense Ministry to set mobilization quotas for each of Russia’s regions, whose governors will then be made responsible for meeting those goals.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu states that “partial mobilization” will affect 300,000 servicemen currently in reserve. In his interview to the Russia-24 TV channel, Shoigu said that Russia has “enormous mobilization resources” — close to 25 million people, to be more specific. “Partial mobilization,” he said, would affect only 1.1 percent of that total number. Shoigu noted, too, that students and young men currently serving their mandatory draft terms in the Russian army will be exempt from mobilization. According to Shoigu, the aim of “partial mobilization” is to enable control of territories adjacent to the front line. Shoigu added that, since “partial mobilization” was announced at the time of scheduled reservist assemblies, those planned assemblies will now be canceled.

“Partial mobilization” will affect reservists up to age 50, as stated to the Interfax by Lieutenant General Andrey Gurlev, a member of the State Duma’s Defense Committee.

Vyacheslav Gimadi, the head of the legal department of Alexey Navalny’s team, thinks that Putin’s decree amounts not to a “partial,” but to a total mobilization. “They have the right to draft everyone, apart from people completely unfit for health or age reasons — up to age 50 for soldiers, 60 for junior officers. It’s whatever the Defense Ministry says,” Gimadi concluded.

Andrey Kartapolov, the chair the Duma’s Defense Committee, listed the categories of people to be drafted first:

  • Soldiers, sailors, sergeants, petty officers, and warrant officers up to age 35;
  • junior officers up to age 50;
  • majors, lieutenant colonels, and second- and third-rank captains up to age 55;
  • colonels and first-rank captains up to age 60;
  • higher officers up to age 65.

According to Interfax, Kartapolov expects that drone operators will be summoned first, along with military intelligence and communications specialists. He also noted that new graduates of military schools and departments might be drafted, too, if their specializations are in demand.

Reservists may be barred from leaving Russia after receiving a draft notice. Putin’s mobilization decree does not immediately limit the right of servicemen to leave the country, Andrey Kartapolov explained. Those limitations come into effect when the person receives a draft letter, Human Rights Council member Kirill Kabanov told RIA Novosti. The relevant clause (Article 21) of the current federal mobilization law prohibits “departing from place of residence without permission of military commissariats” for anyone who has received a draft notice. The current law makes no special provisions for “partial mobilization.”

Kartapolov suggested that going off to a Turkish beach might not be a good idea for draft-eligible people: “If you want to relax, go to Crimea or Krasnodar,” he said, adding that people can travel around Russia before they get a draft notice, but “it’s better not to do that.”

Servicemen will be drafted by written notice, but some have to report for duty on their own. Agora head Pavel Chikov explains that draft notices are delivered for a signature, but reservists with prior mobilization instructions have to report for duty on their own, without waiting to be summoned. Baza has reported that draft notices can be delivered electronically, too (via the official Gosuslugi portal) — but the Digital Development Ministry denies this information, and the portal itself recently crashed.

After Putin’s and Shoigu’s announcements, protest is once again in the air. Vesna (“Spring”), a pacifist movement, called for nationwide demonstrations, encouraging people to come to their city and town centers at 7 p.m. local time on September 21. Alexey Navalny’s team also urges Russians to protest, promising its support to “protest in any form.” “If you are going to do something big, like setting a draft office on fire, we support you and stand ready to help,” said Navalny’s colleague Ivan Zhdanov.

The Russian stock market resumed the collapse that started the day before. After trading had opened, the IMOEX index was close to 2,000 points, but then the decline slowed down. By 10:20 a.m., the index was down 4.7 percent, to 2,111 points. The RTS index fell by 6.25 percent, to 1,082 points. (Earlier, on September 20, amid plans to hold “referendums” in Ukraine’s occupied territories and what was then just rumors of mobilization, the Russian market fell 8.84 percent — the biggest dip since February 24, when the market plummeted 33 percent.)

Ukraine’s authorities met the news of Russian mobilization with irony. “Life has a great sense of humor,” quipped Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to the head of Ukraine’s presidential office. On day 210 of a “three-day war,” what Russians get, he said, is a draft with closed borders, imprisonment for desertion, and special units made up of prisoners. “Still going according to the plan, isn’t it?” he said, pointedly.

Faced with a draft, probable recruits are rushing to buy plane tickets out of the country. Tickets to Istanbul for September 21 were sold out even before Putin’s address, and remaining tickets to Yerevan were few, Verstka reports. After the president’s address, sales of Moscow-to-Minsk tickets suddenly spiked, noted the website The Village Belarus. Edgar Rinkevich, Latvia’s foreign minister, responded to this trend, stating that Latvia will not grant humanitarian or other types of visas to Russians evading the draft.

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