What does Putin’s “partial” mobilization mean for Russia’s military machine?
LONDON (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia’s first mobilization since World War Two after suffering a major battlefield turnaround in Ukraine, an attempt to turn the military tide in what he saw as crucial East-West collision.
For now, the mobilization is officially described as a partial mobilization that will attract 300,000 reservists from the world’s largest country over a period of months, rather than a full call-up that would rely on what the Russian defense minister says would be a huge reserve of 25 Millions of people.
Men and women between the ages of 18 and 60 can theoretically be called up as reservists under Russian law, depending on their rank.
Western military analysts have long said Russia is suffering from severe manpower shortages on the battlefield in Ukraine due to heavy casualties, while Russian nationalists have been calling for some sort of mobilization to breathe new life into what they have described as a stuttering campaign.
Ukraine launched its own mobilization program two days before the Russian invasion on February 24, and soon after announced martial law, barring men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country. It is currently in its fourth wave of mobilization. The exact number of reservists mobilized in Ukraine is secret, but official statements put the number at least 400,000.
Here are the main elements of Russia’s mobilization plan, some of which are laid out on the Kremlin’s website in a decree signed by Putin, and other parts of which have been fleshed out by Putin himself or his defense minister.
* The immediate enlistment of 300,000 military reservists who previously served in the Russian army and have combat experience or special military skills. Students or conscripts – young men serving 12 months of compulsory service in the armed forces – are not included.
* The military is looking for reservists who have a history of fulfilling specific and specialized duties in the army, such as: B. Tankers, Pioneers and Snipers. However, the exact list of specialties required is classified, as this would reveal where Russia has staffing gaps.
* Critics have said that the wording of the mobilization decree and the details of who will and will not be included appear to have been deliberately left vague to give authorities wide latitude in implementation. The figure of 300,000 is not mentioned in the published decree, which comes from an interview that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu gave to state television.
The Kremlin said that part of the decree, which refers to the phased mobilization of up to 300,000 people, was deliberately not published. It was unclear whether other details were deliberately concealed.
* According to Shoigu, the main task of the reservists will be to reinforce the front line in Ukraine, which is currently more than 1,000 km long. “Of course, what is behind that line needs to be strengthened, the territory needs to be controlled,” Shoigu told state television.
* The reservists cannot be physically deployed to Ukraine immediately because they must first undergo refresher or new training and become familiar with the way Russia conducts its so-called “military special operation.” Western military analysts are therefore predicting it will be several months before they see any action.
* Professional soldiers known as “Kontraktniki” currently serving in the armed forces will be automatically renewed until the authorities decide to end the period of temporary mobilization. In other words, it became much more difficult for serving career soldiers to quit.
* Only persons who are discharged from the army or reserve force on grounds of age, valid medical conditions confirmed by a medical-military commission, or persons who have been sentenced to imprisonment by a court. Individuals working in the defense industry may defer service.
* A day earlier, Russia’s parliament passed a bill to increase penalties for crimes such as desertion, damage to military property and disobedience when committed during military mobilization or in combat situations. According to a copy of the law viewed by Reuters, voluntary surrender for Russian military personnel would become a crime punishable by 10 years in prison.
* Reservists receive financial incentives and are paid like full-time professional soldiers, earning much more money than the average Russian wage. That may make the offer more attractive to some men in the provinces, where wages are traditionally lower than in the big cities.
* Western military analysts have questioned whether Russia, after its losses in Ukraine, has enough military equipment and hardware, as well as enough experienced military trainers, to adequately prepare and deploy the reservists. Moscow says it does.
* Western military analysts are divided on whether partial mobilization is too little or too late to turn the tide of the war in Moscow’s favour. Most say it’s too late, but some say it might help Russia in some way, though not immediately and not definitively.
* The announcement of the mobilization seems to have caused panic among some potential reservists. One-way flights from Russia were quickly selling out, according to ticket sales data on Wednesday, and there were unconfirmed media reports of some men being turned back by Russian border guards.
* Jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny predicted on Wednesday that many men would try to evade the draft.
* Activists from the Vesna (Spring) anti-war coalition called on Russians to protest the mobilization announcement in city centers and inner cities as early as Wednesday night. Such protests are likely to be broken up by the authorities. According to Russian law, only officially authorized demonstrations are considered legal.
* “This (mobilization) means that thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of war,” Vesna said in a statement. “Now war will really come to every home and family.”
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