Russian Campaign: Entice Men to Fight 03/26 09:03
TALLINN, Estonia (AP) -- Advertisements promise cash bonuses and enticing
benefits. Recruiters are making cold calls to eligible men. Enlistment offices
are working with universities and social service agencies to lure students and
A new campaign is underway this spring across Russia, seeking recruits to
replenish its troops for the war in Ukraine.
As fighting grinds on in Ukrainian battlegrounds like Bakhmut and both sides
prepare for counteroffensives that could cost even more lives, the Kremlin's
war machine badly needs new recruits.
A mobilization in September of 300,000 reservists -- billed as a "partial"
call-up -- sent panic throughout the country, since most men under 65 are
formally part of the reserve. Tens of thousands fled Russia rather than report
to recruiting stations.
The Kremlin denies that another call-up is planned for what it calls its
"special military operation" in Ukraine, now more than a year old.
But amid widespread uncertainty of whether such a move will eventually
happen, the government is enticing men to volunteer, either at makeshift
recruiting centers popping up in various regions, or with phone calls from
enlistment officials. That way, it can "avoid declaring a formal second
mobilization wave" after the first one proved so unpopular, according to a
recent report by the U.S.-based think tank Institute of the Study of War.
One Muscovite told The Associated Press that his employer, a state-funded
organization, gathered up the military registration cards of all male employees
of fighting age and said it would get them deferments. But he said the move
still sent a wave of fear through him.
"It makes you nervous and scared -- no one wants to all of a sudden end up
in a war with a rifle in their hands," said the resident, who spoke on
condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal. "The special operation is
somewhat dragging on, so any surprises from the Russian authorities can be
It's been more than a week since he handed in his card, he said, and
exemptions usually get resolved in a day or two, heightening his anxiety.
Russian media report that men across the country are receiving summonses
from enlistment offices. In most of those cases, men were simply asked to
update their records; in others, they were ordered to take part in military
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that serving summonses to
update records in enlistment offices is "usual practice" and a "continued
Other unconfirmed media reports say authorities have told regional
governments to recruit a certain number of volunteers. Some officials announced
setting up recruitment centers with the goal of getting men to sign contracts
that enable them to be sent into combat as professional soldiers.
Ads have appeared on government websites and on the social media accounts of
state institutions and organizations, including libraries and high schools.
One of them, posted by a municipal administration in the western Yaroslavl
region, promised a one-time bonus of about $3,800 to sign up, and if sent to
Ukraine, a monthly salary of up to $2,500, plus about $100 a day for
"involvement in active offensive operations," and $650 "for each kilometer of
advancement within assault teams."
The ad said the soldier would also get tax and loan repayment breaks,
preferential university admission status for his children, generous
compensation for his family if he is wounded or killed in action, and the
status of a war veteran, which carries even more perks.
In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, officials asked universities, colleges
and vocational schools to advertise for recruits on their websites, said Sergei
Chernyshov, founder of a private vocational school there.
Chernyshov posted the ad on his social media account "so that everyone knows
what our city hall is up to," but he told the AP that he doesn't plan to put it
on the school website. "It's weird" to target vocational school students, he
Other efforts include enlistment officials meeting with college students and
unemployed men, or phoning men to volunteer.
A Muscovite who spoke on condition of anonymity for his own safety said that
he received such a call and was surprised at how polite it was: "After my 'No,'
there were no threats or (attempts to) convince me --- (just) 'Thanks,
There have only been isolated cases of enlistment officials really
pressuring men to sign up, said Grigory Sverdlin, founder of a group called Go
by the Forest that helps men avoid mobilization.
The group gets up to 100 messages a day from men seeking advice on dealing
with summonses or enlistment officials, he said, compared with dozens per day
in recent months. In most cases, the officials wanted to update their records
with addresses and phone numbers, and they might try to recruit men during that
But Sverdlin said some cases stand out.
In the Vologda region, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Moscow, the
group received messages saying that almost everyone going to the enlistment
office after receiving a summons "is forced to sign a paper barring them from
leaving the region," he said.
Lawyer Alexei Tabalov, who runs the Conscript's School legal aid group,
believes there's nothing unusual in authorities handing out summonses now. Some
of the notices are traditionally served before Russia's spring conscription
draft, scheduled to begin April 1 for those eligible for mandatory service.
All Russian men from age 18 to 27 must serve one year in the military, but a
large share avoid the draft for health reasons or get student deferments. The
share of men who avoid the draft is particularly big in Moscow and other major
cities, and many simply evade enlistment officials bearing conscription
Tabalov said that men have reported going to enlistment offices to update
their records but have officials there who "beat around the bush and promote
the idea of signing the contract, talk about how one should love their
motherland and defend it."
He doubted anything could make volunteering attractive after 13 months of a
war that has killed and wounded tens of thousands.
"People already understand what it means to sign a contract," he said.
"Those who got burned once are unlikely to fall into the same trap."
Tabalov said that his group continues to get messages from soldiers who want
to terminate their contracts, but that isn't legally possible until President
Vladimir Putin ends the partial mobilization, which began in September, with a
"Getting out of the war automatically means criminal prosecution," Tabalov
said, adding there have been a flurry of criminal cases since December, with
prosecutions of soldiers who desert or go AWOL.
The news outlet Mediazona counted 247 verdicts in 536 criminal cases on
these and similar charges, adding that over a third of those convicted got
suspended sentences, which allows authorities to send them back to the front
The current recruitment campaign is similar to one enacted last summer,
before the September call-up, said Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russia analyst with
the Institute of the Study of War.
Back then, authorities also used financial incentives, and various volunteer
battalions were formed, but the effort clearly wasn't successful, because Putin
eventually turned to the partial mobilization.
Whether this one will succeed or not is unclear.
"They've already recruited a significant portion of people that were
financially incentivized last summer. And they struggled to do so last year,"
The current recruitment effort shows the military's awareness of manpower
needs in Ukraine.
"What the mobilization campaign of 300,000 servicemen told us is that it's
not enough to form a sufficient strike group for Russia to push forward with
its offensive operations," she said.