Putin’s call to mobilize more troops to fight in Ukraine heightens tensions at home

President Vladimir Putin’s call on Wednesday to mobilize Russian troops to fight on Ukraine’s battlefields raises the stakes at home, where the government’s message is that life goes on as normal despite the “special military operation” next door.

The partial mobilization shatters that narrative as 300,000 young men are called up for service in Ukraine.

It is the first such mobilization in Russia since World War II.

“That shocked me,” said Georgiy, a Moscow-based student who received the notice on Sept. 19.

CBC spoke to him on Wednesday morning and has agreed to only reveal his first name because he could be fined if he spoke up.

The 23-year-old served as a draftee in the military four years ago but recently received a draft notice telling him to report to his local military office for being drafted to a technical role.

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He said when he reported to the office, his documents had been altered to show he was to serve as a front-line soldier.

When he and his family saw Putin’s speech on Wednesday morning, his mother cried.

“I want us and other countries to live in peace,” he said.

“We don’t need war”

requesting an exemption

Georgiy told CBC he is going back to military service with his father to see if he can be exempted from military service because he is studying.

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday Russia is not conscripting students or conscripts to fight in Ukraine, but has been conscripting them there for the past few months were reports of conscripts sent to the front, including some who served on the warship Moskva, which sank in the Black Sea on April 14.

Shoigu said while there are 2.5 million men in reserve who can be called up, 300,000 are now being called up for service. The first wave of mobilization applies to conscripts under the age of 35.

Shoigu also said 5,937 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine, a number significantly lower than the US estimate in July, when officials put the number of Russian military deaths at about 15,000.

“The shortage of military personnel in the army is now enormous,” said Sergei Krivenko, director of Citizen Army, a Moscow-based organization that advises young men and their families on their rights around conscription.

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Attempts to recruit foreigners

In an interview with CBC, he said he believed Russia was underestimating the number of its soldiers killed, and that the partial mobilization was not only a sign of how many had been killed and wounded, but also an indication that the country’s recruitment drive was unsuccessful sei didn’t work.

On Tuesday, Russia’s State Duma, its lower house of parliament, passed a law designed to make it easier for foreigners to obtain Russian citizenship if they sign a one-year contract with the military.

The city of Moscow also announced that it would set up a recruitment center for foreign citizens.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu speaks in a televised address in Moscow on Wednesday. (Russian Ministry of Defense Press Service/The Associated Press)

Krivenko said this is aimed at migrant workers from former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan working in Russia, but he doubts they will sign up en masse.

He said previous efforts to recruit members of this group had not been successful because people chose to keep working and “probably aren’t ready to die for these crazy ideas from the Russian president”.

Vesna, a Russian activist group, is calling for protests across Russia against the mobilization and the war on Wednesday night.

The Russian army was pushed back near Kharkiv

Despite the threat of arrest, Maria Lakhina, an organizer who fled Russia for Armenia in March, hopes people will take to the streets at risk of conscription, as will her brothers and friends.

She says that when war comes to “people’s homes,” they will be more affected.

Russia’s army was pushed back last week by a large tract of land near Kharkiv, which Ukrainian officials said makes up 8,000 square kilometers of its territory.

A Ukrainian soldier inspects abandoned Russian soldiers’ rations in Kupyansk, Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, on Wednesday. (Kostiantyn Liberov/The Associated Press)

Russian officials have tried to portray the battlefield loss as an opportunity to “regroup,” but some pro-war bloggers online have called for Russia to step up its attack.

Four Ukrainian regions currently controlled by Russia will hold referendums on joining Russia between September 23-27.

Run by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, Donetsk and Luhansk are in the east of the country, with Kherson and Zaporizhia in the south.

Voices condemned by Western leaders

Russia celebrated its conquest of these two territories when it created a land corridor to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014. Organizers of a March 2014 referendum said a majority of the people of Crimea asked to leave Ukraine and join Russia, but most of the international community dismissed the vote as illegitimate.

Western leaders have already condemned the recent planned polls as an attack on Ukraine’s territorial integrity. But through his speech, Putin warned the West not to intervene or there would be consequences.

He said that if Russia’s territorial integrity was threatened, it would use all means “to protect Russia and our people.”

Mārtiņš Vargulis, a researcher at the Latvian Institute for International Affairs, sees Putin’s decision to call for partial mobilization as a kind of “stress test” for his popularity. (Submitted by Martins Vargulis)

“We will certainly use all weapon systems available to us,” he said. “It’s not a bluff.”

Mārtiņš Vargulis, a researcher at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs and a lecturer at Riga Stradins University, said: “This clearly shows that Russia is going all out.”

He sees Putin’s decision to call for partial mobilization as a kind of “stress test” for his popularity.

While a poll by the Moscow-based Levada Center put Putin’s approval rating at more than 80 percent in August, it’s hard to gauge just how accurate it is, given that people can be jailed for publicly criticizing the president, what he still insists on calling his “special military operation” in Ukraine .

A local resident greets Ukrainian soldiers on an armored personnel carrier in Mala Komyshuvakha near Izyum in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Tuesday. (Yevhen Titov/AFP/Getty Images)

Vargulis said Putin’s nuclear threat is worrying as he is likely desperate to succeed on the battlefield, but he is not sure the president is ready to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine or NATO countries.

He believes Putin is using the threat to try to stop Western countries, particularly the US and Britain, from supplying arms to Ukraine.

“I think he doesn’t want to test whether the West will intervene after such a use of tactical nuclear weapons,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview with BILD TV that he also does not believe that Putin would use nuclear weapons, nor would Western countries allow it.

As for the upcoming referendums, Ukrainian officials have rejected the votes, saying they will not change their plans and that the military will continue fighting to retake Ukraine’s territory.

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