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War is not popular in Russia, even less with mobilization

On the last day 21 of September, Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of the Russian armed forces for the “special military operation” in Ukraine. The speech was broadcast in Moscow morning, dawn in Brazil, and was scheduled for the day before, at night prime time. The implications and, mainly, the results of the pronouncement explain the change of time, to a more discreet moment.

According to Putin, the decision is “fully suited to the threats we face. In particular, to protect our homeland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to guarantee the security of our people and our people in the liberated territories.” For him, “today our armed forces are operating on a front line that exceeds a thousand kilometers, opposing not only neo-Nazi formations, but the entire military machine of the collective West.”

To To fight the war, then, “partial mobilization” would be necessary, in which “only those citizens who are currently on the reserves and, above all, those who have served in the Armed Forces, have military skills and relevant experience. Only they will be subject to recruitment.” As for the West and NATO, Putin stated that Russia would use all necessary means to defend itself, explicitly putting a nuclear escalation as an option on the table.

Mobilization and Referendums

The issue of mobilization was addressed here in our space just a few days ago, in a column for the day 13 of September. Russia would need to be able to mobilize more of its military power in order to regain superiority against Ukraine, which has the advantage of fighting a defensive war, and receives a constant flow of modern war equipment from the West.

In addition to the setbacks suffered by Russia in the war in Ukraine, other crises and frozen conflicts in which Russia is involved, as in the Caucasus, make the Russian need to mobilize more soldiers even more imperative. This is necessary to compensate for the fact that Russia cannot simply withdraw its troops currently in other regions. Today, only professional soldiers serve in the “special military operation”, with high rates of evasion and refusal.

On the eve of the speech, even stricter laws were passed for desertion and refusal to go to the front to deal with this problem. Another theme in Putin’s speech was support for planned separatist referendums in four occupied Ukrainian oblasts, Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The referendums would be to vote on a secession from Ukraine and an eventual application for accession to the Russian Federation.

This was the process that took place in 2014, when Crimea was annexed, which, via popular consultation, formally declared independence and subsequently applied for membership of the Russian Federation. For the Russian government, this gives the process popular legitimacy. For critics, the vote was an illegal sham carried out under occupation. The Russian argument is that the independence of Kosovo set this precedent.

The Ukrainian authorities have already stated that they will not recognize these referendums and a possible formalization of territorial annexation could have two implications. Regarding the peace process, recognition of the vote could be put on the table as a Russian demand. Or at least serve as a bargain. In military terms, the referendums could imply that attacks against these territories would be seen as attacks against the Russian state. According to the Russian constitution, the state must be under threat for the use of nuclear weapons to be justified, for example.

Popular reaction

After Putin’s speech, it was the turn of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to speak, detailing what would be the “partial mobilization”. The intention is to recruit three hundred thousand men, with regions of Russia needing to fulfill certain quotas. Supposedly, some categories will be exempt, such as young people currently in universities. The mechanism of “regional quotas” serves the purpose of focusing recruitment in more remote regions and with non-Russian minorities.

For example, a proportionately greater recruitment of Chechens and Dagestans. This has slowed the recruitment of ethnic Russians in major centers such as Moscow, places more susceptible to protests. It also weakens regions that could themselves be hotbeds. In the case of the two aforementioned regions in the Caucasus, separatism is always a risk. Finally, they are regions with less cultural and historical links with Ukraine.

This is something that we have already explained here in our space. The fact is that most Russians do not see Ukrainians as enemies and do not support the war. They have no interest in going to die in a war they don’t see sense, against someone they don’t believe is an enemy. Even the rhetoric of fighting neo-Nazi groups has lost steam in recent months, even among the most nationalist groups. This week, too, for example, Russia and Ukraine, mediated by Turkey, carried out a prisoner exchange that involved more than a hundred members of the infamous Azov battalion.

And all this can be seen in the reaction to the Putin’s pronouncement. Street demonstrations, with thousands of prisoners. Crowded flights to the few countries that still accept Russian tourists. Traffic jam at land borders with Finland, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. The average Russian is not interested in this war, very different from the Ukrainian, motivated by seeing the conflict as a war for survival.

The Russian military setbacks of recent months affect not only troop morale, but also the popular interest in the conflict. Even under strong censure, it is very clear that the situation is not favorable. An episode such as the one involving the son of the Kremlin spokesman hurts the government’s image even more. A television program played a “prank” with him, posing as a recruiter, and the boy said, on national television, that he would solve his military service “by other means”.

of Russians today know that the war will not be fought by the son of the powerful, with or without mobilization, whether general or partial. Mobilization alone will not solve Russia’s problems, it would need to be part of a broader strategy for how to face the war. The way it was done, including the change in the time of the announcement, it seemed more desperation and a cornered government.

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