The “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens to fight in the country’s war on Ukraine has been beset by errors, caused angry protests and prompted a mass exodus when it was announced last month.
Now, as Russian officials suggest that the scheme will wind up soon, questions linger over whether the turmoil was really worth it for President Vladimir Putin.
Roughly half of Russia’s regions, including Moscow, had fulfilled their draft quota as of Tuesday, and the capital’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said that the city would close its draft offices.
The Kremlin later said it has yet to set an end date for Putin’s “partial” mobilization plan, which can only end with a presidential decree. “There have been no such decisions on the end of mobilization,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that “there can be no question” of surpassing the targeted figure of 300,000 soldiers “under current decree.”
But the signs from Moscow suggest that at least the current phase of the divisive scheme is set to finish soon. “Mobilization is ending. I assume in two weeks all mobilizing measures will be over,” Putin said on Friday.
It may be too early to tell whether the influx of soldiers can be considered a military success for Putin, who announced the plan after weeks of Ukrainian counter-offensives flipped the momentum in the conflict.
But, to date, few parts of the plan can be considered a success.
Since the president announced the drive last month, protests have erupted in ethnic minority regions, and some military enlistment offices have been set on fire. The announcement also sparked rare anti-war demonstrations across Russia.
The country was forced to heighten security measures at military registration and enlistment offices “due to increasing attacks” on those facilities, a senior Russian official said on Saturday.
Two gunmen said to be from former Soviet states opened fire on Russian military recruits that day during a training session in the Belgorod region, killing 11 people, state news agency TASS reported, citing the Russian Defense Ministry as a source.
Alexander Khinshtein, a deputy in the Russian parliament, said on Telegram that many “intruders” have also been caught “red-handed” trying to launch an attack on military enlistment centers. A man opened fire at one such building late last month, seriously injuring a commander, state media reported.
Meanwhile, countless Russians have fled the country since the plan was revealed. More than 200,000 people traveled from Russia into Georgia, Kazakhstan and the European Union in just the first week, collective data from those regions showed.
“I was angry and afraid,” Vadim, who left Russia for Kazakhstan with his grandmother after the announcement, told CNN this month. “We don’t want this war … we can’t change something in our country, though we have tried.”
While the setbacks have been numerous, the early benefits seem dubious. It is unclear whether the influx of newly-trained recruits has had any impact in ground fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine, where Kyiv has seen gains in recent weeks.
“In reality the mobilisation was having greater effects on negative political stability at home than it was ever going to have in positive term (for the Russians) on the battlefield,” Mike Martin, an author and War Studies visiting fellow at King’s College London, wrote in a lengthy Twitter thread Sunday.
“We’ve already seen some of those mobilised civilians dying on the battlefield in Ukraine … with no training … a criminal pointless waste of life,” Martin said.
The scheme appears to also be weighing down Russia’s ability to quickly train and equip fighters, canceling out any boosts in manpower that the new recruits may have provided.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) suggested that a one-month delay in Russia’s usual autumn conscription cycle, due to begin on November 1, was ordered because its “partial mobilization is taxing the bureaucracy of the Russian military commissariats that oversee the semiannual conscription cycle.”
“Putin therefore likely needs to pause or end his partial mobilization to free up bureaucratic resources for conscription,” the ISW said. The UK’s Ministry of Defence agreed that the “late start to the cycle is an indication of growing pressures on Russia’s ability to train and equip a large number of new conscripted personnel.”
“The challenges of accommodating, training, equipping and deploying mobilised and conscripted personnel are significant,” the ministry said. “Deficiencies within the Russian administrative and logistical systems will continue to undermine these efforts.”
For many observers, the frantic mobilization represented another miscalculation by a Russian president desperate to turn the tide in a war that has proven difficult for Moscow’s forces.
Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev told CNN last week that “terror is the only thing left” for Putin, “like for any miserable terrorist in the world.”
Kozyrev detailed what he thinks are Putin’s “three major miscalculations”: “One, that Ukraine could be defeated in two, three days. Second, that the United States and the West will not come to the rescue to help Ukrainians. And third, that he brought the war back home when he announced this mobilization.”
“He’s desperate and he returns to what he’s doing – intimidation,” Kozyrev said.
CNN’s Alex Hardie, Katharina Krebs, Uliana Pavlova and Chris Liakos contributed reporting