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A closed draft office, Moscow, October 17, 2022

‘A clear anti-Putin trend’ As the Russian mobilization devolves into chaos, people are, quite rationally, blaming the president

Source: Meduza
A closed draft office, Moscow, October 17, 2022
A closed draft office, Moscow, October 17, 2022
Maxim Shipenkov / EPA / Scanpix / LETA

The Kremlin had never expected mobilization to be “popular” with the Russian people. This is the often-cited reason for Russia’s delay in declaring even a “partial mobilization.” Recent urban focus groups, commissioned by the Kremlin itself, have made clear that practically no one approves of the war in Russia’s larger cities. Only some of the very elderly people, who would never have to go to the front, still approve of the “special operation.” Perhaps even more dismaying to the Russian President’s Office is the the growing “frustration” with Vladimir Putin himself. Meduza’s special correspondent Andrey Pertsev interviewed sources close to the Kremlin about how the government gauges political temperatures around the country, and how it tries to keep the society from reaching a boiling point.

On October 17, Moscow’s Mayor Sergey Sobyanin announced that the city had completed its “partial mobilization.”

Mobilization was a great hardship for thousands of Moscow families, whose fathers, husbands, and sons are now joining the army. All the same, meeting the goal of partial mobilization was only possible thanks to, above all, the Muscovites’ sense of responsibility, duty, and patriotism.

Sobyanin added that mobilization offices would close by mid-day, and that residents could disregard the draft letters already sent. According to the mayor, Moscow’s mobilization goal of 16,000 had been met in full. Still, no legal conditions for ending the mobilization are specified in the President’s mobilization decree, or in any other legislative document.

By evening the same day, Andrey Vorobyov, the governor of the Moscow Region, also announced that the region had met its mobilization quota. “Delivery of draft notices is stopped; those who have received them don’t have to show up at the draft office.” Thirty other regions across Russia had by then reported their own completion of the draft.

Kremlin insiders explain this sudden sea change as a result of the “frustration” that, the government sensed, was building among Moscow’s urban population. When police and draft officers began to “ambush” men near subway stations earlier this month, the public responded negatively:

Everyone literally hid. People are afraid and uncertain about their future. Many have left. The level of fear and disapproval is rising all the time. Moscow has turned into a completely different city. These subway raids were a complete circus, it had to be stopped.

The methods that so much upset the public, our source thinks, all came from the Defense Ministry and the law enforcement. In that situation, Sobyanin, who normally prefers “not to associate himself with the military agenda,” had to stoop to the demands and comply with mobilization orders.

When announcing the “completion of mobilization,” the Mayor spoke of the draft (“a great hardship for thousands”) in a tone you might expect of someone speaking about a natural disaster. It’s worth noticing that he didn’t use the official cliché, “special military operation” — not even once. What he said to Muscovites was this:

My dear ones, I want to offer you words of thanks and gratitude. We’re all concerned and worried about your fates, about the hardships and dangers that await you, and which you’re already encountering. Let us hope and pray that you come back alive and well. That you come back victorious. That you protect the safety and sovereignty of our country.

This rhetoric may have been a response to what authorities in large Russian cities learned when the Kremlin commissioned a number of focus groups, to find out what urban residents think about mobilization. According to sources close the President’s Office, those focus groups produced a completely foreseeable result: they made clear that everyone, and not just Muscovites, were “frustrated.” What emerged was

a perfectly clear anti-Putin trend, even among those who support the “special operation.” Even people in favor of it would say that everything is badly organized, and it’s the president’s fault — since it was he who appointed all the other officials and the military. The only ones clearly in favor of the “special operation” are the really elderly people, retirees.

In other words, the war in Ukraine appeals only to Russians who would never have to fight.

For this reason, insiders expect that St. Petersburg will also fold its mobilization campaign in the coming days — even though it hasn’t met its draft quota.

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Meanwhile, practically the opposite is happening in the Russian regions, away from the largest urban centers. Despite the fact that, on October 14, President Vladimir Putin publicly promised to end mobilization across Russian “within two weeks,” some regional authorities are, once again, conscripting people.

Once again, a source close to the Kremlin explains that additional mobilization orders were sent to those regions where the earlier phase of the draft went smoothly, “without any noise or scandal.” Their new draft goals are about a fourth to a third of the number of people already conscripted there. This estimate was confirmed by a source close to the presidential envoy in one of the federal districts.

Sources agree that this additional recruitment of soldiers will only take place in some regions, and that it certainly shouldn’t be called a “second wave” of mobilization. One of them pointed out that extra mobilization is a “key performance indicator” for regional authorities.

Still, the insiders Meduza spoke to do expect a real “second wave” of mobilization to take place this winter, when logistical chains and military bases are unloaded from the current round of the draft. Sources also expect that the winter round of mobilization will be more localized, and will rely on the cooperation of employers. Meduza is already in possession of a written request, sent by a regional prosecutor’s office to organizations operating within a local municipality, asking them to provide information about male employees born in 1988 or earlier and fit for military service, together with their addresses and phone numbers.

The Kremlin understands that continuing the mobilization is just as unpopular a step as starting it. The ratings of Russia’s acting government have already plummeted, due to the mobilization. Still, it remains “the president’s order, not up for discussion.”

What else isn’t ‘up for discussion’

‘We’re making a snowman. Never mind it’s the summer, we have our orders.’ Political scientist Kirill Rogov on disappointment with Putin — among ordinary Russians and the ruling class alike

What else isn’t ‘up for discussion’

‘We’re making a snowman. Never mind it’s the summer, we have our orders.’ Political scientist Kirill Rogov on disappointment with Putin — among ordinary Russians and the ruling class alike

Essay by Andrey Pertsev. Translation by Anna Razumnaya.

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