The “historic day” of Putin’s address to the nation, previously announced by Russian propaganda, went by much calmer in Ukraine than in Russia. Russians were looking up information on how to leave the country or at least get a postponement from military service on the Internet — as demonstrated by Google’s search data. Meanwhile, Ukrainians spent yesterday and today’s morning casually rebuffing Russian aggression: the Ukraine’s Armed Forces war bulletin dated 20 September mentioned yet again the number of artillery and rocket attacks and the number of destroyed military equipment.
The Russian Federation’s panic and Ukraine’s indifference are not accidental. Putin’s announcement of partial (more on this below) mobilisation is much more dangerous for Russians. Not long ago, the main issues Russian citizens were facing were not being able to buy foreign currency and Western brands leaving the country; now saving themselves from being sent to the frontlines, staying alive, healthy, and, if possible, free will become Russian men’s national sport. Vladimir Putin really wants to go down in history, and he is dragging a whole population that was hoping to remain alive for a little bit longer with him.
The president’s 15-minute-long morning speech, recorded the day before and aired at 9:00 AM on 21 September, was a classic example of his addresses to the nation. The main part of the speech focused on international politics — in it, Putin congratulated himself on his wisdom (the decision to start the special military operation was the correct one), scolded his enemies (the West did not leave us any choice, how dare Ukraine fight back when he gave it the chance to quietly suffer), and declared that the existence of Russia and its sovereignty were at stake (why gamble with them in the first place?).
To resolve certain difficulties that had arisen during the special military operation, mobilisation — or, calling a spade a spade, forced deployment of civilians to their death — was declared. The part of the speech on social assistance to soldiers was brief but effective — in it, the president said that all mobilised soldiers would get the same payments as contract servicemen. Usually during this part of a peacetime national address, the president would resolve all issues by announcing a “one-time payout of 10,000 rubles (€160)”, but the quotes have become a bit higher in wartime.
And finally, the main part of Putin’s political legacy, the thing he talks about with unhidden glee — his readiness to use nuclear weapons in response to the “Western nuclear blackmail”.
There is no going back: the strategic military game Putin is playing with Russian and Ukrainian lives can end either with a total failure of the strategist or some unknown “new world order”. It is interesting that Russian propaganda, which is adamant about the need to go all-in, seeing as there is no other way (except for the Hague) out, is correct in its assessments. Political scientists are still trying to find traces of some subtle political calculations in Putin’s actions, but the truth is that his actions ever since 24 February have been so predictable that any figure head from the state’s Channel One Russia can analyse them with full understanding of what is happening. There is no longer a line between the propaganda and the political government of Russia.
Putin and, following him, Russia’s Defence Minister Shoigu’s speeches evoked the idea that there was no reason for concern: they are only missing some 300,000 reservists for the construction of their “new world order” on the “line of contact”, thus, the mobilisation will allegedly only affect people that have military specialisations, previously served in the army, and have military experience. It is hard to comprehend during exactly which wars 300,000 Russians were supposed to gain military experience, but the fact remains — in the published text of Putin’s decree, there is no indication that mobilisation is “partial” (except for the decree title).
The decree has ten paragraphs — the first one declares to start mobilisation immediately, starting from today, 21 September. The second paragraph equates mobilised soldiers to contract servicemen, the third one defines the degrees of their monetary compensation. The fourth paragraph indicates that all military service contracts are to be deemed permanent — they will be enforced until the end of mobilisation; civilians are no longer allowed to terminate military service contracts on a voluntary basis. This paragraph applies to all contract servicemen and will basically hold them in bondage to the Defence Ministry, depriving them of an opportunity to legally cease their participation in hostilities. According to the fifth paragraph, termination of a contract is allowed only due to old age, health conditions, or after receival of a court sentence that will lead to imprisonment.
The sixth paragraph places the responsibility of financing mobilisation on the federal government.
The seventh paragraph is, as of the moment of publication, missing on the official Kremlin website. It is an “internal use paragraph”, addressed to the Defence Ministry — civilians are not allowed to know the full text of the document, on the basis of which they are being sent to war, for reasons of secrecy. The president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov declared that the seventh paragraph indicated the total number of people to mobilise, presumably those 300,000.
The eighth paragraph designates regional governors (this is important, more below) as the people responsible for mobilisation, i.e. recruiters. At the same time, the deadlines and the total number of mobilised soldiers are determined by the Defence Ministry.
The ninth paragraph indicates that employees of defence enterprises get an exemption from the mobilisation, while the other types of exemptions are to be established by the government. The tenth paragraph states that the decree comes into effect the moment it is published, thus, it is already enforced.
There are no signs of “partial” mobilisation present in the text. According to the decree, the Ministry of Defence calls upon every region to provide as many reservists as the ministry sees fit, the governors are required to draft these people, and the government has to define a list of exemptions, if there will be any, and issue the mobilised soldiers their military compensation. The document indicates that any person eligible for military service could end up mobilised.
Russia’s State Duma has already recommended to prohibit men eligible for military service from leaving not only the country but also their permanent residence — how exactly this will be implemented is unclear.
Yesterday, the State Duma lifted the morale of Russian soldiers by urgently approving bills that introduce or increase criminal liability for failure to appear at an assembly point or military drills, voluntary surrender into captivity, and looting — during mobilisation or wartime. As you can see, we have already got mobilisation. This dance of urgent “bills” and a “decree”, which is missing a paragraph, has nothing to do with the law in the proper sense of the term. However, the mobilisation process was started in just a couple of days from improvised means, and there will not be any limits [to what they can do].
At the same time, the State Duma also approved a bill on receival of Russian citizenship by foreigners that sign military service contracts. The biggest lobbyist of this bill could have been Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, who had announced yesterday that the Defence Ministry representation would be opened in the Sakharovo migration centre — so the foreigners could have easy access to a drafting office. If you are a “local”, “white” male, the central districts of Moscow are, probably, the safest place in Russia for you — it is hard to imagine that the mobilisation in Moscow will resemble the Luhansk-Donetsk mobilisation scenario that saw armed people catch men in the streets and send them to the frontlines, arming them with small old weapons.
Whether the mobilisation has any military point will become clear in a couple of months, when the units containing ex-civilians reach the frontlines. Two main questions for right now are: how will the mobilisation be organised and how will Russian society react to it?
By all accounts, a great corruption-bureaucratic competition between the regions awaits us — governors’ careers will depend on the amount of “living force” they can provide Shoigu with. On the other hand, an individual reservist that has money and connections will always find a way to “solve the problem”. Putin said that the mobilisation had been initiated upon request of the Defence Ministry, but it seems that both the Russian president and the ministry in question are exaggerating their own mobilising competence. Old military enlistment offices, incompetent staff, and broken procedures hide behind the facade of Shoigu’s PR army. Summons will be given out while civilians will begin to disappear — formation of queues near military assembly points is still not to be expected.
The initial reaction of Russian society could follow the same sentiment: a great escape from military service will start, seeing as most men in Russia already have experience in this field. Russians will try to evade mobilisation, choosing hope for a comfortable life rather than dying in the trenches. After all, there is still no official war announced. It is too early to wait for a rebellion, but the sabotage has already started.
In accordance with an old Soviet tradition, the mobilisation decree coincided with “popular masses’ initiatives” on the occupied territories, which had asked for their cities to urgently join the Russian Federation. The mobilised soldiers are being offered to die for “historic lands of Novorossiya”, which will be announced to have become parts of Russia against international law and all common sense.
By starting a causeless, aggressive war against a neighbouring sovereign country, by annexing its territories, by destroying his own soldiers for the sake of geopolitical illusions and amateur history lectures, by blackmailing the entire world with a nuclear bomb, and finally, by announcing mobilisation, Vladimir Putin has declared war on his own people and country.
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