‘Thrown into the meat grinder’: Russians react to mobilisation

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‘How to leave Russia’ spikes on search engines after President Putin announced a partial population mobilization.

On Wednesday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a new phase of the war in Ukraine: a partial mobilization of the population.

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Although radicals have been calling for such a move from the start, the government has tried to present the conflict as an implicit “special military operation”, not something that would directly affect civilians. It might be about to change.

In an interview with TV channel Russia 24, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia had 25 million capable men, but would call only 300,000 with military experience. They will be given additional training before being sent to the front, and will not include students or ex-servicemen.

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Shoigu also claimed that 5,397 Russian soldiers were killed in the conflict.

On Tuesday – without any public debate or discussion – the Duma adopted a law imposing penalties for plundering, refusing to fight, surrendering and giving up.

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The new rules apply during mobilization, wartime and martial law – so far, the government has been reluctant to refer to the invasion of Ukraine as war, using the term “special military operation” instead. According to the new decree, reservists will be treated the same as regular, contract soldiers failing to report for duty.

“They are losing the war, and they want to do something to lose it,” Oleg Ignatov, a Moscow-based analyst at Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.

“I think the main problem is that they lack personnel on the ground – they don’t have enough troops to attack Ukraine or defend occupied territories. They want to bridge the gap with Ukrainians and so He announced mobilization.

Due to the recent setback, the Russian military has had to look for manpower elsewhere.

Footage recently leaked to social media showed Yevgeny Prigozhin, the alleged head of the Wagner oligarch and mercenary organization in the prison colony, telling the convicts if they were ready for six months of duty. They will be released.

“It’s either private military companies and prisoners [fighting in Ukraine]Or your children,” Prigozhin later said in a statement.

Previously, journalists in Kyrgyzstan open A social media campaign hires “security guards” to work in Ukraine in exchange for 240,000 rubles ($4,383) a month and an easier route to Russian citizenship. It soon became clear that this was another recruitment drive on Wagner’s part.

Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are a source of migrant workers in Russia. Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow on Wednesday warning Its compatriots that it may be a crime to engage in conflict on behalf of a foreign power.

Although there were believed to be thousands of Syrian and other foreign fighters subordinate military To fight on the side of Moscow earlier this year, a significant foreign force has yet to materialize.

While the government has promised that only those with military experience would be called in, in practice nothing legally prevents them from enlisting without it as well. In response, the Spring Youth Democratic Movement called for renewed demonstrations against mobilization in Moscow, St. Petersburg and all Russian city centres.

“Vladimir Putin has just announced a partial mobilization in Russia. This means that thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of war,” Spring wrote on his Instagram page.

“Now the war will really come to every household and every family. The officials used to say that only the ‘professionals’ were fighting and they would win. It turned out that they were not winning – and prisoners began to be recruited to the front. War is no longer ‘out there’ – it has come to our country, our homes, our relatives.

Deputies and officers who daily cried about the need for mobilization would be alive and well in their heated chairs. We believe that they should be mobilized and sent to Ukraine – let them die for their ill-conceived notions, and not send ordinary people to their deaths.”

Anticipating this, pro-Kremlin commentator Ilya Remeslow wrote on his Telegram that “reliable sources” informed him that those participating in “illegal rallies” would be the first to mobilize.

“They will immediately check the documents on the spot, identify them, detain them and send them to the internal affairs agencies,” he claimed. “Then, along with military registration and enlistment, the category of draftee will be determined. who do not immediately fit into the first category [of 300,000 experienced soldiers] Will be registered for recruitment later.”

“So, we are waiting for you, dear hamster,” he said. “It’s time to serve.”

On Wednesday evening, demonstrations took place in cities across Russia, although they appeared smaller than those in February.

Ivan Zhdanov, a close aide of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, said that the Navalny team was ready to support any and all anti-war work: “If you are ready to do big things, including setting fire to military enlistment offices, then We are also ready to provide some assistance.”

But Ignatov said major protests were unlikely because Russian society is so fragmented.

“There is no solidarity, and no unity in Russian society. There is no civil society, and Russia has not had free elections since the 2000s,” he said.

“I think they will try to stop any protest, and anyone who opposes mobilization will be severely punished. But I think people will try to sabotage this decision. Males want to avoid mobilization. want to hide from those who are trying to draft him or are trying to leave the country.”

According to Google Trends, the question “how to leave Russia” spread on search engines hours before Putin’s announcement, as did “how to break an arm”. On Wednesday, all flights to Istanbul and almost all flights to Yerevan were sold out.

But running abroad is not an option for everyone. Soldiers who have so far been using loopholes to avoid deployment in Ukraine that it is not a declared war – meaning they are not obliged to participate – now shut that door.

NN, a platoon commander who agreed to speak to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said he had written a letter of resignation, but that the military would not accept it.

“And if I do not join the special operation now, they will put me in jail because of mobilization. In general, the procedure for dismissal from our army is very complicated – you cannot leave like that, ”he said. ,

Order [to deploy] Already arrived and I don’t know what to do. I do not want to go; The interests of the state do not coincide with the interests of the people. many others [in the army] Share my opinion. ,

But others are resigned more than likely to be deployed.

“It affects me directly because of my age, I’ve served and I’ve had the right training, so I meet all the criteria except the fact that the Navy isn’t particularly useful.” [in Ukraine]”, said 35-year-old Valentin from St. Petersburg, who served in the Navy from 2009-2010.

“Some other people have a different opinion. Somebody wants to leave [the country], but most of us will leave if we are told. I’m not afraid. If I get a notice, I will go, but I am also in no hurry.”

‘Thrown into the meat grinder’: Russians react to mobilisation

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