Broken promises: soldiers demand mobilization payments
November 28, 2022
Russian authorities are struggling to deliver on their promise of paying mobilized troops for their military service. Two months after Putin announced mobilization, some soldiers and their families have yet to receive the full payments announced by the president and regional officials, leading to pockets of unrest in some regions.
Just weeks after announcing his mobilization order, Vladimir Putin instructed Russia’s Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Finance to organize monthly payments for mobilized soldiers to the amount of RUB 195,000 (USD 3,169). At the time, independent media reported that some soldiers had already started to receive money, but much less than the promised amount. In Bashkortostan, for example, families reportedly received around RUB 1,000-2,000 (USD 16-33), while in other regions, payments amounted to just several hundred rubles.

In mid-October, military analysts from the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), an independent investigative organization, expressed doubts that the Russian government would be able to make the promised payments to mobilized troops. As they explained, fulfilling the payments would require restructuring the entire system of payments to military personnel.

“[Putin’s] announcement is detached from reality and is practically unrealizable. Payments need to be made through the [Ministry of Defense’s payment] system, which couldn't even cope with payments to contract soldiers. In many cases, non-payment was due to bureaucracy: a person wasn’t able to receive the status of participant in the military operations since he wasn’t listed in [military] records on time… Even if implemented, payments will occur with a bunch of violations and not immediately,” experts from CIT told journalists at IStories.

Unsurprisingly, payments to mobilized troops and other military personnel have turned into a problem for authorities across Russia, something that Putin himself admitted. So too have payments made by regional authorities. In addition to the RUB 195,000 promised by Putin, regional governments can decide how much money – if any – to offer mobilized soldiers from their own coffers. For some regions, like Kostroma, a one-time payment to individual soldiers might be as low as RUB 50,000 (USD 823), while in others, like Sakhalin, payments can reach RUB 300,000 (USD 4,936). In several regions, officials chose not to offer additional money to soldiers.

In early October, mobilized troops in the Omsk region recorded a group message in which they demanded regional authorities to send the lump sum payments promised to them and their families, as well as to resolve problems with receiving credit holidays, another provision the government announced for mobilized troops. At first, Omsk authorities said that the money could not be paid, citing the region’s budget deficit. But then the regional government backtracked and allocated RUB 300 million, or RUB 100,000 for each mobilized person. However, the money was paid out slowly. By October 22, the region had spent RUB 28.9 million (USD 475,525), enough for only 289 mobilized soldiers.

Journalists from IStories write that, as of November 7, regional governments allocated at least RUB 12.8 billion in support for mobilized soldiers. Meanwhile, total regional expenditures on the war exceed RUB 22 billion, which is equivalent to the overall annual expenditures of a small region in Russia. These costs cover everything from equipment, uniforms, and lodging to hot meals, medical care, vaccinations, and transportation.

The journalists note that these funds will not be enough to cover payments for all mobilized soldiers. This possibly suggests that mobilization was not as successful as Russian authorities had hoped or now claim. For example, the Kaluga Region pays RUB 100,000 to each mobilized soldier, for which the regional budget provides RUB 131.8 million. In other words, Kaluga set aside enough money to pay 1,318 mobilized troops. However, this figure is far less than the planned 2,500 mobilized soldiers that the regional military commissar announced at the beginning of mobilization in late September.

In the first days of November, more than 100 mobilized soldiers from the Republic of Chuvashia staged protests at an Ulyanovsk training facility after weeks of failing to receive payments promised to them by the federal government. The men refused to go fight in Ukraine until they received RUB 195,000 each. Videos posted online showed a large crowd of soldiers shouting outside in the evening hours, where, as local media sources reported, riot police were sent to crush the protest. Journalists from Dozhd spoke with several mobilized soldiers in Chuvashia, some of whom said that, after spending their own money to purchase supplies and equipment, they had hoped the payment promised by Putin would compensate for the unplanned expenses.

Chuvasia was originally among a handful of regions that did not offer any payments to mobilized troops from its own coffers. However, following the early November protests, the regional government announced that soldiers would receive a one-time payment of RUB 50,000. The head of Chuvashia, Oleg Nikolaev, explained that the payment was necessary to “compensate the costs” soldiers paid when buying their own “ammunition and equipment,” as well as to support those who have no families and therefore cannot take advantage of “a wide range of measures to support families and children” in the republic.

Although several regions have faced discontent from soldiers and families due to a lack of mobilization payments, journalists at IStories note that at least some regional governments managed to allocate enough funds to pay the officially announced number of soldiers. One example is Irkutsk, where RUB 540 million was allocated, enough to make one-time payments to 5,400 mobilized men. Data from other regions, like Saratov, Adygea, Mari El, and Murmansk show a similar picture.

Russia’s defense ministry announced on November 8 that the minimum RUB 195,000 payment will be made between the 10th and 20th dates of each month for the previous month of service. Officials from the ministry added that for the month of October, payments would be sent ahead of schedule, on November 8. As of this digest’s publication, it still remains unclear how many mobilized troops received these advanced federal payments, and if so, to which amount. On November 23, Kommersant reported that approximately 80% of mobilized troops in Primorsky Krai received payments of RUB 150,000. However, this figure reflects only the payment established by authorities in the region rather than the federally promised RUB 195,000. And on November 25 local media in Irkutsk reported continued delays in contract servicemen receiving regional payments. In response the governor, Igor Kobzev, blamed military recruitment centers and promised to resolve the issue.

Overall, journalists from IStories write that Russia has enough money to conduct military operations. State spending has increased, but not to catastrophic levels. Likewise, the federal budget is still in surplus despite sanctions and lower global oil prices. However, in the future, war expenses will become more burdensome, and the government will likely cut spending on non-priority areas, such as social expenditures. In the medium- to long-term, regional authorities may be harder pressed to secure additional funds from the federal government.

Digest by Mack Tubridy for the Russia.Post editorial team.
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