The hawks of the Kremlin last week disavowed their president, Vladimir Putin, by admitting that the offensive on Ukraine is not going according to their plans. “The established deadlines are not being met,” the secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrúshev, acknowledged in an interview. After three months of fighting, the Kremlin continues to officially maintain that it is a “special military operation” and not a war, although it has already taken the first steps for future mobilization if its military adventure continues over time. Until then, the legal status of the campaign has allowed hundreds of professional soldiers to refuse to fight without knowing that a single criminal case has been opened against them for breach of duty.
“All the objectives set by the president will be fulfilled. It cannot be otherwise: the truth, including the historical truth, is on our side”, affirmed Patrushev in another example of the ideological connotation of the offensive. Just before the conflict began, the United States estimated that Russia had deployed between 169,000 and 190,000 soldiers around Ukrainemost of his ground forces, so a prolonged campaign will require many more troops to rotate, even if he is only defending the ground he has taken under control.
In early May, the Kremlin called the prospect of a general mobilization “foolish.” But confusing letters have been arriving in the mailboxes of many Russians for weeks inviting them to go to the nearest military registry office to “clarify their data” in the face of “actions for a mobilization of human reserves.” Nobody remembers a similar precedent in the past. Upon arrival at the registry office, not only is a note taken of who may be summoned in a hypothetical mobilization; sometimes medical examinations are also ordered or officials urge to sign a contract that automatically puts the citizen in the reserve, if he is not sent to the front first. According to attorneys specializing in this area, many people mistakenly believe that following this process is mandatory.
“In Russia, preparations for a mobilization are taking place. The Ministry of Economy has officially designated millions of rubles for this purpose; the recruitment points are updating their databases and the companies are adjusting to those needs”, explain sources from Call to Conscience, a platform created by lawyers and human rights defenders to give legal advice on recruitment through Telegram .
Until now there has been no compulsory mobilization, but many are unaware of their rights and the legal aspects of what they find at the recruitment points. “They call you with the excuse of updating your data, but when you go they try to convince you to enlist,” summarizes one of the two cases that this newspaper has learned about and that prefers to remain anonymous.
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According to Call to Conscience, the information can be “confusing” and the staff “persuades the potential volunteer by promising stability, salaries of 200,000 rubles (four times the average Russian salary, about 2,800 euros), that they will not be sent to combat zones or that the contract can be easily terminated. “Sometimes it’s about promises and misinformation. Some recruits who are about to finish are told that they will still be in service and if they sign at least they will receive money, ”they add.
The whole process is being very confusing and some recruitment points have issued orders as if a state of war has already been declared. The lawyer and founder of the human rights NGO Ágora, Pável Chikov, revealed on his social networks that a center in Saint Petersburg illegally demanded that a company hand over its vans “for mobilization tasks”.
Medical exams for Metro employees
Something similar has happened in some companies. The wife of an employee of the Moscow Metro denounced the newspaper Viorstka that they assembled the staff “and verbally ordered all the men to undergo an extraordinary medical examination for their possible shipment to the war in the Ukraine.” The panic made them believe that they were being recruited, something that is not legal now, although the companies can already receive orders to prepare the ground to call up the reservists.
Job offers have appeared on Russian employment websites looking for “personnel specialized in mobilizations”. The goal, from managing paperwork at the call-up to reorganizing the chain of work in all kinds of sectors, including hospitals, factories and universities.
The mobilization, total or partial, can only be decreed by the president, Vladimir Putin. The reserve includes both those who have done military service and alternative civil service, and the numbers of reservists are classified information, although the data handled by US analysis centers such as the Council on Foreign Relations estimate that it has about two million members. But they are numbers that are only sustained on paper: in 2014, at the beginning of the war in Donbas (eastern Ukraine), the Russian Defense Ministry admitted that it only had about 8,000 reservists trained for modern combat and wanted to raise their number to about 80,000.
Military service is compulsory in Russia until the age of 27, but by law, the Kremlin can only send professional soldiers to a war — and this has not been officially declared. However, the Ministry of Defense acknowledged in March that the presence of recruits in Ukraine has been registered, which it called “an error”, according to its version. There are two calls for military service a year and in the spring call about 135,000 young people were notified.
With a view to facilitating enlistment, the Russian Parliament has also expressly abolished this week the age limit for signing the first military contract, which was set at 40 years for Russians and 30 for foreigners. In fact, letters for “clarification of data” have even reached foreigners who obtained Russian citizenship in the past.
As a sign of concern about the recruitment, Pavel Chikov’s law office received more than 2,000 inquiries about the mobilization and how to avoid being sent to Ukraine until mid-May. “If at first they were mostly women [familiares de los militares] those who wrote, now the number of requests from men has increased, ”said the lawyer on his social networks.
The dismissal, maximum punishment for not fighting in Ukraine
According to the coalition of lawyers, even during the mobilization you can appeal to conscientious objection not to be sent to the front because the legislation in times of war complies with the Constitution, and its article 59 says that “people whose beliefs or religion are incompatible with military service they have the right to alternative civil service”. The website of the Ministry of Defense reports that these pacifist ideas can be of all kinds, “philosophical, moral, ethical, political or religious”, so in theory it would be a personal decision to accept going to the front.
“Unfortunately, we know the price of rights and freedoms in modern Russia. The presence of a right in the Constitution and international law does not mean that this right can be implemented in practice”, denounces Call to Conscience.
For now, the designation of the offensive in Ukraine as a “special operation” has legally protected hundreds of soldiers who refused to obey orders. His only punishment so far has been dismissal. “The facts have shown that when the military resigns because they do not want to participate in a special operation, they are finally fired and no criminal cases are initiated,” says Alexánder Bélik, coordinator of the Movement of Conscientious Objectors.
The latest example dates back to May 25, when the Nalchik military court dismissed the lawsuit by 115 members of a National Guard (Rosgvardia) unit from Kabardia-Balkaria for reinstatement of the jobs they lost by failing to carry out orders to the start of the offensive. The details of the case were declared classified information, as happened in early May in another similar trial behind closed doors with 25 soldiers from a Vladikavkaz garrison.
“There are more and more cases of members of the National Guard challenging their dismissals in court,” said lawyer Mikhail Benyash, mentioning this latest case on his personal Telegram channel. The lawyer filed the first known complaint for a supposedly unfair expulsion from the army. On the second day of the conflict, a platoon leader and 11 soldiers from the Russian Plastun detachment refused to cross the border, claiming that they did not have valid passports to travel abroad and that their duties were limited to the territory of the Russian Federation. . Subsequently, they demanded in court that their dismissals be declared inadmissible.
The tension caused by the offensive on Ukraine has also triggered the cases of recruitment points that have been vandalized. At least a dozen of them have burned throughout the country since the “special operation” began on February 24, as has been verified. The Moscow Timesnewspaper declared a foreign agent by the authorities.
On the weekend of May 15 alone, three centers were attacked with molotov cocktails, several of them located in the Southern Military District, one of the most involved in the conflict. Sometimes the action was even recorded, as happened in Nizhnevartovsk. So far there have been no casualties in these attacks on recruitment points.
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