Let’s. Not. Go. There. The Kremlin tells propagandists not to try refuting putative fake news about the rumored new round of mobilization. The best policy, it stresses, is to ignore them.
Russia’s pro-Kremlin media has received a new set of guidelines from the President’s Administration. This time, they contain an “urgent request” to talk as little as possible about the rumors that Russia might be getting ready for a new round of mobilization. Two employees working for state-controlled media shared the contents of the memo with Meduza political reporter Andrey Pertsev.
In early September, anxiety about a possible new wave of mandatory military recruitment began rippling across Russian social media and messengers, together with a fake photo of a mobilization order signed by the head of Russia’s Defense Ministry Sergey Shoigu.
According to media insiders who spoke with Meduza, Russia’s propaganda outlets are being asked to abstain from all discussion of the incident, including any attempts to refute fake news. The rationale for muting the discussion outright is simple: “Everybody knows, if the government is denying something’s going to happen, it’s definitely happening,” says one of the media professionals about Russian society’s lack of trust in the government.
According to Meduza’s sources, the Kremlin’s request applies even to Defense Ministry spokesman Andrey Kartapolov, whose attempt to refute the fake news about Shoigu’s “mobilization order” was quoted by multiple outlets, further spreading the alarm. Kartapolov already has an unhelpful reputation in this regard: in 2022, he “refuted” the Kremlin’s plans to start mobilization — days before it started.
Kartapolov also said, in the fall of 2022, that the Russian army had no need for raw 18-year-old recruits and would only conscript men who are 21 and older. In reality, the law was changed to expand the age of eligibility by raising the maximum age for mandatory-term conscription to 30, while leaving the minimum age requirement as it was, at 18.
Some of the more popular pro-Kremlin media have already stopped quoting Kartapolov’s statements.
Instead of commenting on the prospect of another round of mobilization, the Kremlin suggests, state-controlled media should focus on coverage of contract recruitment for the Russian military. According to one speaker, some pro-Kremlin publications have enough leeway to ignore such recommendations (if their editors are on “good personal terms” with the Kremlin). For the majority, though, a “request” from the Kremlin has the force of an order.
A source close to the President’s Office told Meduza that mobilization is something that makes Russian society nervous. “It’s easier to say the absolute minimum on this topic — there will be fewer triggers that way.”
Anxiety is especially unwanted just before the 2024 presidential election: while influencing the overall mood in society, for some of it this kind of tension can spill into protest, refusing to vote, or voting against Putin. The Kremlin’s intent, meanwhile, is to re-elect the incumbent president with record unanimity: the goal is to garner at least 80 percent of the vote with a turnout of 70 percent or more.
Kremlin insiders who spoke with Meduza on condition of anonymity admit that they don’t know anything about a new round of mobilization, and whether or not it might happen.