Depending on their rank, men and women in Russia can be called up as reservists at any time between 18 and 60 years old during the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Aiming to reverse the military tide in what he has characterised as a pivotal East-West showdown, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia’s first mobilisation since World War II, following a significant tactical reverse in Ukraine.
Officially, the mobilisation is being termed as partial, meaning that it will gradually bring in 300,000 reservists from throughout the world’s largest country over a number of months rather than relying on what Russia’s defence minister claims is a massive reserve army of 25 million people.
In theory, Russian law allows for the conscription of male and female citizens between the ages of 18 and 60 as reservists, albeit this age range is subject to rank restrictions.
Russian nationalists have been calling for some sort of mobilisation to inject new life into what they have described as a stuttering campaign for months, while Western military analysts have long said that Russia is suffering serious manpower shortages on the Ukraine battlefield due to heavy losses.
On February 22, two days before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine began its own mobilisation campaign and shortly thereafter declared martial rule, restricting travel abroad for males aged 18-60. Their present phase of mobilisation is the fourth such wave. The Ukrainian government has been mum on the actual number of mobilised reservists, although public statements have hinted at a figure of at least 400,000.
The basic tenets of Russia’s mobilisation plan are as follows; some are detailed in a decree signed by Putin and posted on the Kremlin website, while others have been elaborated upon by Putin or his defence minister.
There will be an urgent mobilisation of 300,000 Russian military reservists who have either seen combat or have specialised military training. Students and male youths serving required 12-month military terms (conscripts) will not be considered.
* The military is actively recruiting reservists with experience in highly specialised positions, including as tank drivers, sappers, and snipers. The precise list of skills it seeks is secret since it would show where Russia is lacking in employees.
Critics have said that the decree’s phrasing and the specifics of who will and will not be included appear to have been kept purposefully ambiguous to give the police considerable leeway in enforcing it. The defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, made an appearance on state television in which he mentioned 300,000. However, the decree as published does not include this number. The Kremlin claimed that up to 300,000 people would be mobilised in stages, but that this information had been withheld from the public. It was unclear if any additional information had been suppressed on purpose.
According to Shoigu, the reserve forces’ primary mission will be to strengthen Ukraine’s front line, which is already more than 1,050 kilometres (621 miles) long. “Naturally what is behind this line needs to be strengthened, the region needs to be controlled,”Shoigu said on state television.
Russia is prosecuting what it terms a “special military operation,” and before the reservists can be physically sent to Ukraine, they need to be retrained or given new orientation on how this type of operation is conducted in Russia. So, according to Western military experts, it will be a while before they really see any kind of combat.
Contracts for professional troops, or “kontraktniki,” who are already serving in the armed services will be automatically renewed until the authorities decide to halt the period of temporary mobilisation. Leaving the military as a professional is now considerably more difficult.
Discharge from the military or reserve forces is possible only for people who meet the criteria of retirement age, have medical complaints validated by a medical-military commission, or have been found guilty of a criminal offence and sentenced to jail time. Defense contractors and workers are exempt from mandatory military service.
The Russian parliament passed a law the day before which would increase penalties for offences including desertion, damage to military property, and insubordination committed during military mobilisation or war. Reuters has obtained a draught of the proposed law that would make the voluntary surrender of Russian military troops a criminal punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
As a financial incentive, reservists will be compensated at the same level as regular military personnel, who already earn far more than the median Russian household. For some men in the regions, where incomes are often lower than in large cities, that might make the idea more appealing.
There is some doubt among Western military experts as to whether Russia has sufficient military gear to prepare and deploy its reservists in light of its losses in Ukraine and a lack of qualified military trainers. It does, according to Moscow.
Military experts in the West are split on whether or not Moscow’s partial mobilisation is too late to turn the tide of the battle in Moscow’s favour. However, some argue that it still may aid Russia in the long run, but not right away or with any certainty.
A number of would-be reservists apparently freaked out when they heard about the mobilisation. On Wednesday, statistics showed that one-way flights out of Russia were selling out quickly, and there were unconfirmed rumours in the media that some men had been turned back by Russian border officials.
Alexei Navalny, a jailed opposition lawmaker, said on Wednesday that he expected a large number of men to try to evade the conscription.
Starting as early as Wednesday night, anti-war activists from the Vesna (Spring) group urged Russians to gather in city and town centres to demonstrate against the mobilisation announcement. The police will likely intervene to disperse any such demonstrations. In Russia, the law only permits protests that have been approved in advance by the government.
Thousands of Russian men, including “our dads, brothers, and spouses,” would be “thrown into the meat grinder of war,” Vesna stated in a statement after the mobilisation. Now the conflict will affect every family in every country.