Vladimir Putin’s latest cunning plan to defeat Ukraine by conscripting 300,000 civilians into the army has won no battles, but it has united the Russian nation: Pretty much everyone in the world’s biggest country agrees, the mobilization is going very badly.
The Kremlin’s Sept. 21 order calling up reservists has swamped Russian media (including state-run television) with a flood of reports documenting widespread state incompetence and negligence in the theoretically straightforward task – for an authoritarian state – of identifying men suitable for military service and placing them in a training unit.
Yegor Sidoriuk, a Moscow resident, told local draft board representatives knocking at his apartment door that he is patriotic but unable to go fight because he is permanently disabled, and showed his visitors a Health Ministry invalid certificate and his wheelchair. They handed him a draft notice anyway, the UNIAN news agency reported on Oct. 7.
Arsen Alsynbaev, from Salavat, Tatarstan, received a draft summons on Sept. 24. He went to the military enlistment office confident he would be sent back home because, since serving in the army, he had become subject to epileptic episodes due to a head injury. Army doctors drafted him on the spot, his wife stated in an Oct. 7 social media video. Any man capable of walking into any Tatarstan recruiting office was, by current army standards, by definition medically fit.
According to an Oct. 5 report on Sibirskie Realii news platform, across the Russian heartland draft boards frantically searching for manpower are anything but picky, accepting for service men without prior military experience who had just had operations, stroke victims, and even insulin-dependent diabetics. In the village Okha, on Sakhalin Island off the Pacific coast, the physical fitness test for service in the Russian army was, simply, a blood pressure check.
A draft board in Buryatia, on the Mongolian frontier, decided a man with multiple bone fractures was medically fit, the article said. The investigative group Insider, in an Oct. 1 article, catalogued multiple instances of conditions that won’t keep a man out of the Russian army: a man with schizophrenia drafted in Khabarovsk, a man with rhinitis and pancreatic deficiency in Chelyabinsk, and a Far Eastern district resident with a dangerous heart condition.
Since the Kremlin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, military dead and wounded have been anything but evenly spread across the Russia’s thirteen time zones, with units from European Russia suffering relatively few casualties and formations from poorer Asian and Caucasian Russia often being decimated. Typical was the experience of the originally 2,000-member 64th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, from the Amur River region, which was effectively wiped out to a man in continuous fighting from March to May.
The news platform Vazhnye Istorii (VI) reported the same bias in the ongoing mobilization. According to an Oct. 5 VI analysis, a Russian man living in Krasnoyarsk, Buryatia, Dagestan or Kalmykia is between twice and six times more likely to be forced into army service, than a resident of a major Russian city.
The authors said, in part, “But you need to understand that those who wanted to be mobilized and those who are being mobilized is a huge difference.”
According to both Russian official and social media, at dozens of assembly centers across the country, recruits have entered an army seemingly grossly incapable of taking new soldiers into its ranks. A widely forwarded video from a central Russian recruiting center showed a sergeant telling recruits to buy female napkins to use as wound bandages because the army wouldn’t provide them any.
Rus’ Sidyashchaya, a Russian NGO promoting better government, on Oct. 6 published a video of a newly built camp for incoming reservists made of uninsulated, unheated shipping containers surrounded by barbed wire, and called the conditions “like a zoo.” The same day a soldier newly assigned to the elite Tamanskaya Motorized Rifle Division published a Telegram video complaining he and hundreds of other new recruits had been locked in a train for a week and forced to buy their own food and water.
Roman Starovoyt, Governor of the Kursk Region, said “I visited all the military units where our mobilized are now. Some are normal, but some are just terrible. I am perplexed how a modern Ministry of Defense training unit can be in such a state. Ruined dining rooms, broken and rusty showers, no beds, and those are there, are shot.”
An Oct. 4 social media post from the Ural region showed reservists being marched back and forth on a drill square as part of their month-long training to meet the NATO-equipped and -trained Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) in battle.
President Vladimir Putin, in a Sep. 29 speech, conceded the mobilization had gone less well than planned and promised to fix things. On Oct. 5, the Kremlin’s chief public propagandist, Vladimir Solovyov, told RT1 television viewers this was proof of Putin’s no-nonsense, problem-solving leadership style.
Reports of poor discipline among mobilized troops still abound. On Oct 4. the Baza Russian news platform reported that, in the Alabino training center outside Moscow, a brawl broke out between Russian contract soldiers and reservists because contract soldiers wanted to steal phones and other personal items from the new recruits. Twenty men reportedly were hospitalized.
According to Rus’ Sidyashchaya on Sept. 29, thirteen felons released from prison in exchange for military service, left a recruiting base in Crimea and were at large. According to unconfirmed Russian Federation (RF) social media reports, at least 11 reservists called to the colors have, since mobilization, died from causes ranging from heart attack to alcohol poisoning to suicide.
AFU units since late September had reported multiple cases of mobilized reservists taken prisoner or killed on the front line, directly contradicting Putin’s Sept. 29 promise no reservist would be sent to fight for Russia without months of proper training.
An Oct. 7 telephone intercept by AFU Main Intelligence Directorate of a veteran RF soldier calling back home, recorded an RF unit’s recent experience with a fill of mobilized reservists: “There are tanks firing back and forth over us. We had 60 people go missing out of 65. From those people – what do you call them, those mobilized guys – they had just arrived. On the next day they disappeared.”
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