Covert mobilization? – How Russia recruits new soldiers


Moscow wants to close the gaps in the Russian army in the war against Ukraine. General mobilization has not yet been declared, but there are signs that soldiers are being recruited – in various ways.

A Russian soldier in Cherson, Ukraine: Russia obviously needs more soldiers

Contrary to various forecasts, Moscow has not yet declared a general mobilization even after five months of war against Ukraine. In the fight are professional and temporary soldiers as well as members of private security and military companies. Men recruited by the self-proclaimed “Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics” in Donbass are also deployed. Instead of drawing in recruits in a general mobilization, the drafting offices are apparently more actively looking than ever for temporary soldiers and are probably also targeting conscripts, according to various circles. 

Conscription of veterans

Alexander, who does not want to give his real name for security reasons, is a veteran and has not lived in Russia for years. His passport still contains his Russian registration address, under which his parents continue to live. They recently received a subpoena from the local draft office addressed to their son.

“I've been listed with the office for more than 20 years – ever since I was a soldier in the military. I'm a veteran and don't know what that has to do with it. It's probably a covert mobilization,” says Alexander. He himself condemns the Russian attack on Ukraine. If he were still in Russia, he says he would try to leave the country as soon as possible after such a summons.

Apparently, more and more Russians who have been in the military and are experienced in combat are receiving subpoenas. The topic is currently being widely discussed in the Russian social network VK – those affected exchange advice on how best to react to a summons. “My son went to the office on June 14. They looked at his IDs and asked if he wanted a contract. Then they let him go,” writes Anna on the VK network. She is a member of a women's group in Arkhangelsk.

Russian soldiers on duty in Ukraine (here: at the hydroelectric power station Kakhovka on the Dnieper)

Active search for contract soldiers

The human rights activist Alexander Gorbachev advises conscripts. Since the beginning of the war – and especially since the last month – he has observed an increased search for contract soldiers. “In the past, only conscripts and men who came to the office voluntarily were offered a contract. There weren't masses of calls and summonses,” he says.

Now there is probably the search for conscripts for temporary contracts ,  said Oksana Paramonova, head of the human rights organization “Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg”. According to Paramonowa, methods are used that were previously unusual.

By law in Russia, men between the ages of 18 and 27 are conscripted. There are exceptions for those who cannot do military service because of their health. Students also get a deferral for the time of their studies. The rights of conscripts have often been violated before, but this year there are unprecedented cases, says Oksana Paramonova. As an example, she cites the call-up of seniors regardless of the accrual they have left. People with health problems who are not normally allowed to serve in the army were also drafted, reports the human rights activist and points to numerous complaints of this kind on the hotline of the “Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg”.&nbsp ;

In addition, according to Paramonova, the authorities are now also contacting companies directly with lists of employees who are being summoned. This was unusual in the past. A subpoena received at the workplace cannot be ignored by law. But the recruitment offices themselves would not force anyone to sign a temporary contract, confirms the human rights activist. 

An exception in this respect is the Russian republic of Chechnya. The Russian-language Internet newspaper The Insider recently reported that men there were being kidnapped, tortured and prosecuted to be forced to go to the front.

The “soldier mothers” confirm that this is not common in other regions of Russia. “There are cases where there is no direct psychological pressure, but where potential contractors are deceived about payments, benefits and working conditions,” said Paramonova. Many would complain to their hotline that contractual terms were not being met. However, it often turns out that the contract soldiers did not read their contracts thoroughly before signing them.

Unprecedented remuneration

In many cases it is not even necessary to force people to go to war. Queues are commonly seen outside mobile enlistments these days. Vladimir Putin abolished the age limit for military service at the end of May. Now over 40-year-olds can register. And many do.

An important incentive is the remuneration. The offices have also placed numerous advertisements to recruit soldiers. Anyone who signs a contract receives a salary of 200,000 rubles a month – the equivalent of 3,500 euros. This is five times more than the average salary of a Russian. According to Alexander Gorbachev, the regular pay in peacetime was 25,000 rubles, i.e. around 400 euros.

However, the advertisements do not state whether it is about use in a war zone. There is only indirect evidence of this. For example, at the end of a description it says: “During the conduct of the special military operation, a contract may be concluded for four months or more.” Russia describes the war against Ukraine as a “special military operation”.

General mobilization risky

“There is no covert mobilization in the sense of forced conscription to take part in combat operations in Ukraine,” said Oleg Ignatov, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. Western media and the military had expected Vladimir Putin to announce a general mobilization on May 9th. This has not happened, but it cannot be ruled out in the future, says Ignatov. So far, such a decision has probably been avoided for political reasons. Because the passive supporters of the war could quickly become active opponents of the war, the expert analyses. And the Russian leadership fears popular resentment

The gaps in Russian infantry in the advance on the Donbass, the expert says, have so far been made up for by Moscow's artillery superiority. But Russia's military forces would not be enough to capture the cities of Dnipro, Odessa or Kyiv. “We don't know how far Russia wants to go in Ukraine. But Russia is not moving away from its goals and its policies. If it feels cornered, a general mobilization could also be called,” said Ignatov.

Adaptation from Russian: Markian Ostapchuk