Since the end of March, Russian media has been reporting that Vladimir Putin set his military recruiters a target of 400,000 volunteers for the war in Ukraine, in an attempt to delay an increase in overt mobilization. In order to reach that figure, Russian officials have expanded their campaign to attract potential recruits among both Russian and migrant citizens, with promises of money and other benefits.

Recruiters hand out brochures to men on Russian city streets. In cities with a large migrant population, such as the southern city of Chelyabinsk and the central Russian city of Penza, similar leaflets could be seen hanging on the noticeboards in mosques and on the walls in migrant workers’ dormitories.

Recruiters have even installed native Tajik and Uzbek speakers in immigration offices, who routinely attempt to recruit migrants. Migrant workers from Central Asia are being increasingly approached at mosques, in dormitories and at migration offices.

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Recruiters are reportedly offering a sign-up bonus of $2,390, a monthly salary of $4,160, and a fast-track to Russian citizenship for volunteers and their families, which would reduce the normal five-year naturalization path to one year if they agree to serve.

Example of a recruiting pamphlet/Photo: RFE/RL

 A video obtained by Radio Free Europe’s Tajik Service shows a representative of a Russian military recruiting office giving a speech at a popular mosque in the city of Chelyabinsk: “You don’t have to wait five years to become Russian citizens – instead you can sign a contract for military service for six months or up to one year in exchange for fast-track citizenship for yourself and your families,” the uniformed man tells the congregation in the mosque.

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In another video, a man in a Russian military outfit appears to be promoting contract military service to a group of men, some of whom can be heard speaking Uzbek. The video purportedly shows Central Asian migrants lining up for work permits in the western city of Penza.

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Screen-grab of recruiter addressing attendees at a Mosque in Chelyabinsk/Photo: RF/RL

Recruiters say those willing to become military contractors don’t even have to take the mandatory medical check-up, according to Jurabek Amonov, a migrant rights advocate: “They only need to sign a paper saying, ‘I am healthy.’”

It has also been reported that migrants held in deportation centers are told that if deported they will be banned from returning for five years, but if they volunteer, then their records will be wiped clean, after which they could become a Russian citizen after only six months.

Russia hosts millions of migrants from Central Asia and other former Soviet republics where unemployment is a growing problem. While most migrants have tried to avoid having to fight in Russia’s war, it is believed that many hundreds have accepted jobs with Russian construction companies working in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied territories.

The fear among migrant community leaders is that faced with lack of work or low wages in Russia, and even worse prospects at home, their people may be tempted to enlist out of desperation.

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