Russians run from mobilization
October 11, 2022
A mass exodus of Russian men, along with street protests throughout the country, underscores the unpopularity of Vladimir Putin’s “partial” mobilization order. 
The queue to checkpoint "Verkhniy Lars", September 2022. Source: VK
After Vladimir Putin announced a “partial” mobilization of what was said to be 300,000 reservists on September 21, thousands of men who had been promised they wouldn’t be called up for service began to receive draft notices. They included those too old to fight and lacking prior military service experience, fathers of multiple children and even the deceased. For many, the announced “partial” mobilization started to look like total mobilization. Thus, panic began to spread, with Russian men fearing they could be next in line to be sent to the battlefield in Ukraine.

The perceived threat resulted in overwhelmed airports in Moscow and St Petersburg as people attempted to leave the country as quickly as possible. Plane tickets to places like Armenia and Turkey, where Russians can visit without a visa, began to skyrocket in price and sell out. At the same time, people sped to Russia’s land border crossings with Finland, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Georgia. At some border crossings, kilometers-long lines quickly formed. Pictures and videos posted on social media showed mountain roads leading up to the Verkhniy Lars border checkpoint in North Ossetia clogged with vehicles of people desperate to flee to Georgia. Bikers and pedestrians were able to bypass cars which enabled them to cross the border more quickly.

However, not everyone is able to leave the country. For those who do remain, there are a number of strategies to avoid being mobilized and sent to fight in Ukraine. According to Russian law, only officials from an enlistment office can issue a draft notice, usually at a person’s place of residence, but also at work or university. Thus, one way to avoid receiving a draft notice is living somewhere other than your official address of residence. Some try to work remotely if their employer allows. Others are simply not opening their door to strangers or anyone who claims to represent the enlistment office. Independent civil rights organizations in Russia advise that even if recruitment officials manage to hand someone a draft notice, it is best to ignore it since the penalty is only a small fine.

Meanwhile, companies and even entire industries are fighting to exempt their own employees from the mobilization order. Medical equipment manufactures and pharmaceutical companies have asked the government to grant their workers deferment from mobilization since replacing them would be time-consuming and complex owing to the high skills required. Russia’s Central Bank asked credit and insurance companies to provide lists of workers whose jobs are critical to their everyday functioning so that they could be exempted from the mobilization. Likewise, the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media created a list of professions in the IT sector and communications that are excluded.

However, here not all companies and sectors are equal, as state-owned companies like Gazprom and Sberbank, for example, managed to easily exclude their employees from getting swept up in mobilization. Smaller, privately-owned firms may not be so lucky. However, as Tatyana Rybakova recently argued in an article for The Republic, the inherent vagueness of Putin’s mobilization order – where nearly all Russian men can technically find themselves the recipients of a draft summons – allows for plenty of opportunities for corruption. Regional and local authorities tasked with mobilization in their own jurisdictions operate with a significant amount of discretion. The Ministry of Defense decides the number of men to mobilize, but lower level authorities decide on how. And without strict rules or monitoring systems that ensure only those eligible for mobilization are called up to fight, men without fighting experience or those with children might find themselves trying to convince enlistment officers that a mistake has been made. To that end, both individuals and companies may be able to pay their way out of mobilization.

A Levada Center survey conducted in the days following Putin’s mobilization order shows that nearly half of Russians feel “anxiety, fear, horror” (47%), while those feeling “pride for Russia” came to only 23%. As Andrei Kolesnikov recently wrote in an article for Russia.Post, most people in Russia prefer to maintain a certain degree of distance from – as the Kremlin still insists on calling it – the “special military operation.” Russians wish to hold on to their private life and support the army from their couch, but not necessarily fight in the war themselves. Anti-mobilization protests across the country – especially in places like Yakutia and Dagestan – underscore the waning support for Russia’s dragging war in Ukraine. In Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov announced that the region wouldn’t carry out any further mobilization following a women’s protest in Grozny.

Commenting on the anti-mobilization protests in the North Caucasus, the political scientist Vladimir Gel’man noted: “these cases are not the norm for Russia. The heroic women of Makhachkala, who fought the police there, were fighting for their loved ones — their husbands, their children and relatives. This will mean, at best, that instead of their loved ones someone else will get mobilized in places with less resistance.” In the weeks and months ahead, any resistance to the unpopular mobilization will take greater coordination.

Digest by Mack Tubridy for the Russia.Post editorial team.
Share this article
Read More
You consent to processing your personal data and accept our privacy policy