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‘A guarantee of the country’s destruction’ Russian political scientists on Putin’s mobilization announcement

Source: Meduza
Anton Vaganov / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

On the morning of September 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced what he referred to as a “partial mobilization.” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu later reported that approximately 300,000 people will be conscripted. What exactly “partial mobilization” entails, how it will look in practice, and whether it will help Russia turn things around on the battlefield is anybody's guess, but it's undeniable that Russian society is in for some major changes. To get a better idea of what to expect, Meduza spoke to a number of leading Russian political scientists and sociologists.

University of Helsinki

Margarita Zavadskaya

Political scientist

The scale of mobilization is the most tangible thing that will affect ordinary Russians and their immediate circles. It’s an apocalyptic event — a tragedy that will affect many.

It’s possible that 300,000 [the number of soldiers who will reportedly be mobilized] won’t be enough, and that as a result, we’ll have to deal not with a “partial mobilization” but with a creeping one, a mobilization that will stretch out through time. In that case, the danger would be to the lives of Russian citizens who aren’t prepared to fight (and there’s no guarantee they’ll be trained into competent fighters).


This is a unique event. [The last time] we had mass mobilization [in Russia was] over half a century ago, and many bureaucrats, including military officials, simply don’t know how it works. There are going to be a lot of excesses and a lot of human rights violations. That won't lead to anything but outrage and other negative emotions.

Denis Volkov

Sociologist, Director of the independent Levada Center

This is military logic, and it fits into their overall strategy for confronting the West: “If you don’t want to do things the easy way, we’ll do them the hard way.”

[Because the mobilization will affect at least 300,000 people and their families,] some change in society’s general opinion [of the war] is possible. But all of the authorities’ decisions are gradual; they’re all done half-heartedly. And that also gives people a chance to calm down, close their eyes to what’s happening, and shut it out — at least the people who aren’t affected directly.

In recent months, people have adapted — they say so themselves. “Nothing [about the war] has affected me, and thank God for that. Let’s leave the worrying to the people it actually affects.” The support [for the war] has largely been a function of people’s [personal] lack of participation in what the authorities are doing. That situation’s going to change, but the change will be gradual.


'Anyone who's upset can still leave — for now' The logistics of the Kremlin's mobilization plan


'Anyone who's upset can still leave — for now' The logistics of the Kremlin's mobilization plan

Alexander Baunov

Journalist, political scientist

Putin is at great risk of losing his “benevolent czar” status. Sure, he’s trying to defend it by delegating the unpopular decisions to [Russian Defense Minister Sergey] Shoigu. Who to conscript, how many people, which segments of the population — all of that’s for the defense minister to decide. When people ask, “Why me? Why not him? Why my baby and not my neighbors?” it’s going to be up to Shoigu to answer. Nonetheless, the risk of losing support is fairly high.

The risk for Russia is that it will lose more people. But there’s another risk — a major one, but one that hasn’t been fully articulated. Because they still haven’t revealed exactly who will be conscripted, [...] they’ll be able to use it as an instrument of repression. Step out of line? Here comes your draft order. It’s useful to them as a means of suppressing protests against the mobilization itself. If it were a full mobilization, people would have nothing to lose. But because it’s “partial,” that means that if you behave well, you won’t be mobilized — but if you behave poorly, you’ll be sent to war.

Tatyana Stanovaya

Political scientist

Initially, Putin was against the idea of mobilization. [...] But Putin underestimated the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ ability to launch a counteroffensive. Suddenly, there was a risk that Ukraine’s offensive would reach Russian territory. So mobilization became unavoidable — especially once it became clear that Russia was launching “referendums” in the four [partially occupied Ukrainian] regions.

But the [Russian] population doesn’t want to go to war. It thinks Putin is conducting a “special military operation” that won’t go beyond a certain scale and timeframe. A lot will depend on whether the Russian authorities are able to adhere to the limit they’ve imposed by making it a “partial” mobilization. Because they’ll be tempted [to announce a full mobilization] — just as they were tempted with the conscripts, who they promised not to send to the front but sent anyways.

Nikolai Mitrokhin


It’s clear that this [mobilization] will only be “partial” in the first stage. Then the scale will increase — until the Russian army in Ukraine is at least comparable to the size of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which consists of somewhere between 700,000 and a million people.

Nobody’s going to train the mobilized soldiers — they’re going to be conscripted and sent immediately to their positions. The infantry units in the key areas right now, according to fragmented reports, are at no more than 35 percent of their normal size; there are only about 30-35 people left out of each hundred. In the long term, social pressure will be growing, with soldiers on the front line increasingly becoming radicalized against the war. An entire winter on the battlefield under constant fire — you wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Then there’s the second risk, and the more serious one: will all of these mobilized guys with machine guns be effective fighters? They’ll certainly fill out the front line, but will that be an antidote to Ukrainian breakthroughs?

Grigory Yudin

Sociologist, philosopher

Things aren’t going well at the front, he [Putin] was facing pressure from radicals, and he needed to make some kind of concession. [...]

[But military] mobilization outside the bounds of war implies some kind of political mobilization — that’s a prerequisite. In order for people to be willing to die, they need to be put in an existential situation; they need to be made part of a comprehensible, collective whole. And that’s a big problem for Putin — his is more of a police state than a totalitarian one.

And so the political mobilization never happened. Because Putin can no longer say, “Guys, for twenty years, we’ve had a deal: you take out your loans and go about your business, and I’ll stay out of your lives" [if he's also sending people to war]. This entire crackpot scheme is not so much a risk as an absolute guarantee that the country will be destroyed. Mobilization is one more step in that direction.

protesting the draft

No to mobilization Russians take to the streets countrywide after Putin announces call-up

protesting the draft

No to mobilization Russians take to the streets countrywide after Putin announces call-up

Interviews by Svetlana Reiter, Lilia Yapparova, and Alexandra Sivtsova

Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale

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